Hazel flowers: male and female

The male flowers (catkins) on the hazel trees have been growing since last autumn. But where are the girls: without female flowers there will be no nuts…

Hazel catkins (male flowers) in December
Hazel catkins (male flowers) in December

Now, in mid to late January, the male flowers are full size and opening out to release their pollen. Consequently, the much smaller, female flowers are appearing. You have to look closely to spot them: they’re just a wisp of red or cream peeking out from the tip of a bud. What you see is just a part of the flower, the styles, that will receive the pollen. The rest of the flower is inside the bud. The more female flowers there are, the more chance there is of a good crop of nuts at the end of the summer.

Female hazel flower in January
Female hazel flower in January

In hazel, the male and female flowers grow on the same tree: so-called monoecious, from the Greek for one house. So, if you spot the long hazel catkins, watch out for the tiny little female flowers too.

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Colourful ferns

These native polypody ferns make a bright splash of colour with their vibrant yellow sori (the spore filled clusters on the undersides of the leaves).

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Common polypody (Polypodium vulgare) ferns are easy to grow. They are evergreen and tolerant of a wide range of conditions. They can be particularly useful as ground cover in shady places where many other plants will fail to thrive.

The bright yellow colouration seen in the photographs is only very short-lived – the sori will soon dull and darken – but it’s pretty while it lasts.

 

Green shield bugs

Our common green shield bug, Palomena prasina, is widespread in the UK. It is seldom, if ever, troublesome and is a bug you can enjoy sharing your garden with.

The bugs show an incredible diversity in their appearance as they develop: from little tiny round green babies with black dots, they grow bigger and bigger until finally acquiring their characteristic shield shape.

Juvenile green shield bugs on a lilac leaf
Juvenile green shield bugs on a lilac leaf
Adult shield bugs
Adult shield bugs

 

Shield bugs like nothing better than to lounge in the sun, occasionally sucking a bit of sap from a wide variety of plants, but without causing damage. Hazelnut growers do regard them as a pest as the hazel is their favourite food. And if too many shield bugs suck the sap of the hazel trees, the nuts tend to drop early without forming properly.

A green shield bug enjoying a late autumn raspberry.
A green shield bug enjoying a late autumn raspberry.

There is another similar shield bug that is common in continental Europe and has also been seen regularly in the south of the UK: the southern green shield bug, Nezara viridula. This shield bug is a serious pest and its spread in the UK is being monitored.

British Bugs has a fantastic guide to help with shield bug identification at all stages of their development. Fera has information about the status of the non-native Southern green shield bug.

 

 

Butterfly eggs

These are the eggs of the large white (the clump of yellowish eggs) and small white (the single whitish eggs to the left and right) butterflies. Both butterflies are known as cabbage whites.

These eggs have been laid on nasturtium leaves: they prefer cabbages and other brassicas, but nasturtiums are a firm favourite food plant of the cabbage whites too.

Eggs of the large white (Pieris brassicae) and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. And a tiny newly hatched large white caterpillar.
Eggs of the large white (Pieris brassicae) and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. And a tiny newly hatched large white caterpillar.

I gave up growing cabbages in the garden because controlling the caterpillars of these two species of white butterflies on them was impossible. Well, impossible without chemicals. And I took the decision that gardening at home, for me, is gardening for  fun and pleasure; it’s not about necessity or earning an income. So, if things won’t grow successfully without plant protection products, I don’t grow them.  It’s a very different story when you’re growing a crop to feed your family or earn an income: choices are much harder then.

The photo below was taken about a fortnight later: the caterpillars are literally eating themselves out of house and home!

Caterpillars of the large white butterfly decimating a nasturtium
Caterpillars of the large white butterfly decimating a nasturtium

Olearia nummularifolia

Olearia nummularifolia in flower
Olearia nummularifolia in flower

Olearia nummularifolia is an interesting, fragrant and easy to grow ever green shrub.

It has tiny, thick, leathery oval leaves and a much branched stem with a generally upright habit. During July and August the tips of its stems are covered with intensely fragrant (if a little scruffy looking) white flowers.

It is hardy in the UK and tolerant of salty winds, making it an ideal low maintenance shrub for seaside gardens. It needs no pruning and is not at all unruly.

It propagates easily from cuttings – most easily if you keep the growing medium a little on the dry side – but it is slow growing, so you need to be prepared to wait for a shrub of substance to grow! It will never be super-sized anyway, generally only growing to 2m in height at most.

Phormium flowering

Back in May, one of my Phormium tenax plants started to put up two flower spikes.

By late June, the flower spikes were looking very architectural, like rockets heading to the sky:)
By late June, the flower spikes were looking very architectural, like rockets heading to the sky:)
Inside the spathes, the flower buds looked like little tiny bananas
Inside the spathes, the flower buds looked like little tiny bananas

These have grown taller and taller: one is now about nine feet tall, the other about seven.

The spikes kept growing taller and the spathes peeled back from the buds...
The spikes kept growing taller and the spathes peeled back from the buds…

Today, the first flowers are beginning to open.

...and finally, the flowers have begun to open.
…and finally, the flowers have begun to open.

It’s fine to let Phormiums flower – they are not like agaves that die once they’ve flowered. It’s also fine to “prune” them if they’re getting out of hand, although it’s difficult to achieve a very tidy result: the cut edges will always remain, but in time, they’re disguised to some extent by new leaves.

Erigeron cuttings

erigeron flowers
Erigeron glaucus / beach aster flowers

The cuttings I took of Erigeron glaucus (beach aster) back in April have all developed good strong root systems. Today they’re getting planted out.

I took cuttings from the tips of the stems and also from mid sections. Both types have done well, the stem tip cuttings are more developed, but they were larger to start with.

Some of the rooted cuttings - the tip cuttings are on the left.
Some of the rooted cuttings – the tip cuttings are on the left.

For the stem tip cuttings, I took about 4-inch sections of stem complete with their top-knot of leaves. These were prunings from an overgrown clump of plants, so they didn’t have leaves down the stem. I stripped the largest outer leaves of the top-knot off. Scraped a bit of rind off the bottom of the stem with my thumb nail. Dipped the stem in rooting hormone and popped them into a trough full of garden soil. I kept them in a shady part of my garden and kept them constantly moist.  And then waited for just two months.

I’d say Erigeron glaucus is a super-easy plant to propagate from cuttings and its a great way to increase your stock or grow replacements for old plants.