Monthly Archives: March 2021

Wednesday Weed – Lawson Cypress

Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana)

Dear Readers, isn’t it strange how you can march past a tree every week for a year and never notice that it appears to be covered in tiny red and black humbugs? These are the male flowers of the Lawson Cypress, and the photo doesn’t do them justice. They look as if they’ve been newly painted, and are nicely set off by the yellow-tipped foliage. The beige objects are the new cones. Apparently the whole tree smells of parsley (though my Collins Tree Guide adds the comment ‘rather sour’, you shall have to tell me what you think.

It is a most stately and funereal tree, and so it’s no surprise that there are a number of cypress ‘walks’ in the cemetery. There are some fine specimen trees of other kinds of cypress too, including the Japanese Hinoki cypress in the woodland burial area, and the wonderful swamp cypress . It all rather reminds me of Feste’s song from Twelfth Night (though I strongly suspect that Feste the clown is mocking his master Orsino in this piece). It would also have been about a Mediterranean rather than an American cypress, but I beg your indulgence.

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

The Lawson Cypress is also known as the Port Orford Cedar, and its native range is restricted to a few mountains in Oregon and California. The wild tree is threatened by fires and by a fungal disease caused by the Phytophthora spore. Apparently the disease is largely spread by soil adhering to the tyres of off-road vehicles, and so these are sometimes banned from areas where the fungus is present. Good riddance, I say! If only someone would find a correlation between plant diseases and leaf-blowers so we could ban them too.

Although in the UK most of the trees are of a moderate height, they can grow to a magnificent 60 metres tall.

Old growth Lawson Cypress in California (Public Domain)

But, who is this Lawson I hear you cry? Well, Charles Lawson was a Scottish plantsman who specialised in crops and conifers. He sent teams of collectors to many places, but when the tree was discovered at Port Orford it was taken into cultivation at Charle’s Lawson’s nursery in Edinburgh. Well, the plant must have been happy because these days it can be found in many large gardens, country-house estates and parks. It comes in a wide variety of colours, shapes and ‘habits’, including this incredibly droopy variant known as ‘Imbricata pendula’.

Photo One By Darorcilmir - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A weeping Lawson cypress (Photo One)

No wonder I have trouble identifying conifers when they’re so varied! I can always fall back on the red male flowers for ID at this time of year though.

Such beautiful straight-trunked trees would have been very attractive to lumberjacks, and to the timber companies that employ them, and so it was with this tree. However, large amounts of the wood are sent abroad, particularly to Japan where it’s used to make coffins and shrines. The lumber is said to smell faintly of ginger, which sounds very pleasant. The straightness of the wood also makes it a shoo-in if you want to knock up a few arrows, and its lightness means that it’s been used in the manufacture of guitars.

Guitar made from Lawson Cypress (Photo Two)

In North America, the Karuk people built sweat lodges with the branches of Lawson Cypress. In the UK, the sole legend about the Lawson Cypress appears to be that it’s unlucky to burn it (something which seems to hold true for any conifer, in fact, at least in Monmouthshire).

And finally, because spring is here, I have brought you a most unusual poem by Alfred Tennyson. From his long work ‘The Princess’ this is a very sensuous work, a cross between a Persian Ghazal and a sonnet. Both forms often embrace the idea of the parted lovers. I really like the visual quality of the poem – can anybody else see the glint of fin in the porphyry font, or the cypress falling still in the hot, oppressive air?

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal from The Princess by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.

Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake.
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

Photo Credits

Photo One By Darorcilmir – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Other People’s Gardens….

Alpine Accentors (Prunella collaris) (Photo by Mike Hawtree)

Dear Readers, in my Magic Animals post last week I asked to hear about the animals that you most enjoy when they visit your garden, and today I have two very different sets of critters for your delectation. First up is Mike, who lives in the beautiful Valais area in Switzerland. Mike blogs at Alittlebitoutoffocus and his posts are always full of splendid photos of flowers and butterflies, so when I find myself pining for the mountains (which has been a frequent occurrence this year) I can pop over and cheer myself up.One bird that Mike sees regularly that we don’t get in the UK is the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), a bird closely related to our dunnock, and with a similarly intriguing sex life. The birds hang out in groups of 3-4 females and a similar number of males. The females will attempt to mate with all the chaps, and the males will aim for similar success with the ladies. However, one of the males is likely to be more dominant and so will try to prevent the other males from mating if he can. It all sounds a bit ‘Abigail’s Party’ to me, but it just goes to show that even a non-descript little brown bird can have a whole lot of fun.

Alpine accentor – photo by Mike Hawtree.

And then there’s a bird that I’ve never seen in East Finchley: though it’s a British native, it loves the coniferous forests of Scotland. What a cracking photo this is!

Crested tit (Lolophanes cristatus) Photo by Mike Hawtree

Crested tits survive through the winter by winkling out the insects that  hide in pine cones and in bark. It’s a very distinctive and talkative little bird (allegedly since I have never been lucky enough to hear one  🙁 ) and apparently it is ‘easily approached’. No chance of finding one in my garden, I fear, but how lucky we all are that Mike is a dab hand with the camera.

And now to the other end of the world: Anne blogs every single day from her home in South Africa, and she has a garden bird list that is easily six times the length of mine. Her blog, Something Over Tea, is a fascinating insight not just into the wildlife of the area, but into the community as a whole. And she has some truly spectacular birds visiting her garden – how about this African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus)?

African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus) Photo by Anne Irwin

What a spectacular bird! And apparently it has double-jointed knees, so that it can reach into inaccessible cracks and crannies for prey – it will hang from a weaver bird nest with one foot while searching inside with the other one for nestlings. Its ability to climb and its omnivorous eating habits (it eats the fruit of the oil palm as well as all the usual small creatures) make it a successful and adaptable bird.

I was even more jealous about this visitor, although I can understand that I might be in a minority.

Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) Photo by Anne Irwin

This is a puff adder, responsible for more deaths from snakebite in Africa than any other species. This is for a variety of reasons: it’s a widespread and relatively common snake, it can turn up in heavily populated areas, and apparently it has an ‘aggressive disposition’. When I visited the Kruger, our guide told us that the snake likes to sleep on the paths at night because they’re warmer, which is not good when combined with a local populace who often go barefoot. However, as they have especially long fangs which can penetrate soft leather, even your shoes might not protect you. Nonetheless, like most snakes attacking is a last resort: the snake will puff up and hiss continuously, while deciding whether to strike or to retreat. I love the matter-of-fact way in which Anne describes the encounter:

This Puffadder had been seen in our garden for several days in a row and
then one evening decided to venture into our house. Needless to say it
was bundled out forthwith!’

So there we go. Gardens vary so much from place to place, from country to country, and yet we all love to see the wildlife that visits. If you have photos of creatures in your garden, drop me a line on and I’ll feature you in one of my future posts. In the meantime, do drop in on Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus and Anne at Something Over Tea for a taste of drops in to visit gardens in other parts of the world.

One Year On

Dad and Bugwoman on her wedding day in 2001.

Dear Readers, on Wednesday it will be a year since my father died ,and as those of you who have been through a bereavement know, the ‘firsts’ are hard. The first Father’s Day, the first birthday, the first Christmas are all filled with memories of the person who isn’t there any more. Sometimes I sit in my living room and look at the space in the bay window where Dad used to lay in his reclining chair, and I can almost hear him snoring away gently. Or I remember him tapping along to the radio, or noticing some bird on the cherry tree, just visible through the French doors. At these times I feel that he is there, just  outside my peripheral vision, and if I turn around fast enough I’ll catch a glimpse of him. But at other times it’s clear to me that he is absolutely gone in any meaningful way, and so is Mum.

I had a dream where the two of them were tottering along the garden path towards the car, and I was watching them from the house. They were bickering as usual – Dad wanted to hold Mum’s hand because she was unsteady on her feet, but she thought that Dad would fall over too if she tripped and he was holding her. But then Dad snatched her hand anyway, and they headed remorselessly away from me. I so wanted them to turn and wave but they were very focused on where they were going. The dream flavoured the whole of my day. At the age of 60 I felt as abandoned as a small child lost in a supermarket.

All around me people are wiping the dust off their garden tables and sorting out their wineglasses in preparation for the first step out of lockdown tomorrow. It’s going to be glorious weather, and I expect my neighbours will be having a whole gaggle of garden-based events, meeting up with family that they haven’t been able to see properly for months. I’m pleased for them, but at the same time it just reminds me that most of my close family are dead. Lockdown has been a kind of protection because everything has been so strange. When Mum died I couldn’t somehow believe that people were going about their lives, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities. I am reminded of the famous Auden poem about stopping the clocks because someone has died. But then, I too have been that person, laughing and joking and worrying about trivialities, and indeed a lot of the time I still am. Perhaps part of the wonderful thing about life is that it drags you on, even when you don’t want to go.

Someone compared grief to a bookshelf. In the beginning, the only book is the one about sorrow. That book is always there, but gradually other books appear, about different subjects, until life fills out again, and we can go moments, then hours, then maybe even days without thinking about the person who is gone. But this I have learned: losing someone that you love, however old they were, however predictable the event was, is like having a door slam shut behind you. You can never be the person that you were before, because now you know, in your bones, that nothing is forever. Death is no longer some abstract notion, but a bitter fact that you are going to have to learn to live with and incorporate into your daily life.

The nature of grief changes though, and that is a blessing.  I find myself thinking about how mischievous Dad was, how determined to get his own way. I remember that he loved to make people laugh, how kind and gentlemanly he was towards women, how he hated a direct fight but was a master of the sneaky move.  I find myself remembering all the times that we’d sit in the living room watching Countdown, pretending not to be competitive. Even after his dementia, Dad was always the one who could win at a quiz. In short, he is coming back to me, and he’s coming back whole, all of him, with a big grin on his face.

When Dad’s dementia took hold, it was clear that he had become a master of paradox. He could believe that his parents were coming to visit him at Christmas, even though they had been dead for years. He could believe simultaneously that Mum was dead, that she was living somewhere else and wasn’t speaking to him because he’d upset her, and that he wasn’t old enough to be married. And it isn’t so different for me. I know that Dad is utterly, absolutely, completely gone, never to return, and that I’ll never hold his hand again. And yet, I also sense him moving through me every time I make a decision about the garden, or put a slice of lime into a gin and tonic, or get a question right on Mastermind. He is here but not here, present but absent. I miss him more than I can express, but I am  having trouble remembering his face.

I will never ‘get over it’, and yet I am moving on, regardless.

Thomas Reginald Palmer (5.12.35 to 31.3.20)

Celandine Time in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Dear Readers, I think we’ve reached the height of Lesser Celandine season here in the cemetery – every path is ankle-deep in those shiny yellow flowers with their heart-shaped leaves. I love the polished look of the petals, so different from the waxy petals of the daffodils.

It seems difficult to imagine that in a few weeks they’ll be gone, the leaves dying back until next year. I note from my Harrap’s Wild Flowers that there are two sub-species of Lesser Celandine, one which is fertile (Ficaria verna ssp fertilis) and has petals that are 10-20mm long, and one which reproduces from bulbils (Ficaria verna ssp verna) which has flowers 6-11mm long. I shall have to take my ruler next time I visit, but my hunch would be that these are the latter – plants that reproduce by bulbils are often seen as indicators of ancient woodland because they can’t travel quickly from one place to another. The cemetery has only been around since 1854, but previously the land belonged to Finchley Common, so the area has a long history. At any rate, it’s difficult not to feel the spirits lift at the sight of all these little golden flowers.

Lesser celandine is not the only plant that’s in flower at the moment, though – the violets are just starting to emerge. I found this lovely patch of sweet violet close to a fence – the flowers are very pale and I didn’t get any scent, but the rounded sepals (the ‘covers’ for the bud) give the game away.

Sweet violet (Viola odorata)

I was very struck by the red flowers on the Lawson cypress as well – I had never noticed them before, but this year they are very bright, almost like drops of blood, or like some stripy beetle.

The ground ivy is in flower, too – a member of the deadnettle family, the flowers always remind me of little dolls.

The blossom is going over, particularly on my favourite cherry plum where the coppery leaves are just coming through.

Lots of daffodils are still out, and although as you know I have mixed feelings about them, they are very striking when backlit by the sun.

And here are the sticky buds of the horse chestnut getting ready to burst. Soon there will be the candelabras of creamy, sweet-scented flowers, but for now it’s the first intimation of spring.

As we walk through the cemetery I hear the mewing of a buzzard, and for once it isn’t being mobbed by crows. We watch it catching a thermal (no mean feat on this blustery, chilly day), and it continues to call until another buzzard appears. They can travel a long, long way at speed just by riding the wind. Are they nesting somewhere in the cemetery? It wouldn’t surprise me, but I haven’t found the site yet. If they are, I’m sure it will be hidden away in one of the most difficult-to-access parts of the forest, but how exciting it would be!

And finally, here is another little patch of violets. These are a ‘proper’ violet colour, but it’s difficult to make out the sepals. However, those perfect heart-shaped leaves make me think it’s dog violet (Viola riviniana), so-called because it doesn’t have any scent, and ‘dog’ is often used as an epithet for something commonplace and uninteresting. Try telling that to any dog (or dog owner) though.


Saturday Quiz – Coming Soon!

Title Photo by By I, Malene, CC BY 2.5,

Title Photo – Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Dear Readers, a few months ago we had a quiz on autumn migrants to the UK but now, as the seasons turn, they are leaving and the spring migrants are arriving. So, this week, can you match the name of the bird to the photo? I have only chosen birds that are summer visitors only (in some species there are residents and migrants), but even so there are still twenty species, so just as well I’ve given you a week :-). I have also been cheeky and sometimes chosen two closely-related species just so that you don’t get bored.

As I was preparing the quiz I noticed two things. Firstly, there are a lot of summer visitors, especially amongst the ‘little brown jobs’ such as the chats and the warblers, so I am going to do a separate quiz on this bunch in a few weeks for the masochists among you. Secondly, spring is such an exciting time for birdwatchers in the UK! With any luck we’ll be able to get out and about a little bit more this year, Covid willing. I have never noticed the comings and goings of creatures as much as I have this year, and there is something rather nice about tuning in in this way. I’m sure a lot of those reading this will have had similar experiences. Earlier on this week I was asking about those ‘magic animals’ that turn up rarely, but when I was watching my hairy-footed flower bees earlier this week, I thought about how precious those ‘regular’ creatures are too.

As usual, the solutions will be published next Friday (2nd April) so if you would like to be marked, please put your answers in the comments by Thursday 1st April. As soon as I see any answers I will acknowledge them and then ‘disappear’ them so that they don’t influence other people, but if you’re easily swayed by other people’s brilliance (like me 🙂 ) you might want to write your answers down first.

Match the species name to the photo. So if you think the bird in Photo 1 is an osprey, your answer is 1) A)


Species Names

A. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

B. Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

C. Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

D. Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

E. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

F. Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)

G. Garganey (Anas querquedula)

H. Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)

I. Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

J. Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

K. Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

L. Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

M. Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)

N. Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) (Stercorarius parasiticus)

O. Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

P. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

Q. Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

R. Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

S. Swift (Apus apus)

T. House Martin (Delichon urbica)


Photo One by By Dick Daniels ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Two by By The original uploader was Tgo2002 at English Wikipedia. - Own work by the original uploader, CC BY 2.5,


Photo Three by By Ómar Runólfsson - Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus - SkrofaUploaded by snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0,


Photo Four by By Sabine's Sunbird - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Five by By JJ Harrison ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Six by By AWeith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Seven by By Erik Christensen - With permission from: Murray Nurse, Guildford , England, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Eight by By Jinesh PS - Previously unpublished work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Nine by By MPF - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Ten by By Sreedev Puthur - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Eleven by By JJ Harrison ( - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Twelve by By Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Thirteen by By Mike Prince from Bangalore, India - Eurasian Hobby, CC BY 2.0,


Photo Fourteen by By Yuvalr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Fifteen by By Dûrzan cîrano - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Sixteen by By Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg: Vogelartinfoderivative work: Bogbumper (talk) - Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHR0791.jpg, GFDL 1.2,


Photo Seventeen by By Peterwchen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Photo Eighteen by By Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg: Nigel Wedge from Fife, Scotlandderivative work: Snowmanradio (talk) - originally posted to Flickr as The Juvenile House Martin and uploaded to commons as Riparia_riparia_-Markinch,_Fife,_Scotland_-flying-8.jpg, CC BY 2.0,


Photo Nineteen by By Paweł Kuźniar (Jojo_1, Jojo) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Photo Twenty by By GabrielBuissart - self-made, Romelaere Clairmarais, FR., CC BY-SA 3.0,




Quiz – What’s That Moth? – The Answers

Title Photo by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Six-Spot Burnet Moth (Zygaena filipendulae)

Dear Readers, everyone did brilliantly this week – Claire got 9 out of 12, Anne got 11 out of 12 and we have joint winners – Fran and Bobby Freelove and Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus both with 12/12. Well everybody! Let’s see what I’ve got in store for Saturday 🙂

Photo One by By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

1)d) Leopard Moth (Zeuzera pyrina)

Photo Two by By Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service, - This image is Image Number 0805048 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service., CC BY 3.0 us,

2) e) Red-belted Clearwing (Synanthedon_culiciformis)

Photo Three by By Hamon jp - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

3)i) Peach Blossom (Thyatira batis)

Photo Four by Les Round from

4) j) Number Eighty (Tethea ocularis)

Photo Five by By User:Chrkl - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

5) b) Large Emerald (Geometra papilionaria)

Photo Six by By Charles J. Sharp - Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0,

6) k) Bloodvein (Timandra comae)

Photo Seven by Iain Leach from

7) h) Argent and Sable (Rheumaptera hastata)

Photo Eight By Kulac - Self-published work by Kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0,

8) l) Scorched Wing (Plagodis dolabraria)

Photo Nine by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (, but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution,

9) f) Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria)

Photo Ten by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (, but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution,

10) a) Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa)

Photo Eleven by By Mick Talbot - British Moths, CC BY 2.0,

11) c) Gothic (Naenia typica)

Photo Twelve by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

12) g) Double Line Moth (Mythimna turca)

Photo Credits

Title Photo by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo One  By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Two  By Edward H. Holsten, USDA Forest Service, – This image is Image Number 0805048 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service., CC BY 3.0 us,

Photo Three  By Hamon jp – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Four by Les Round from

Photo Five  By User:Chrkl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Six  By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Photo Seven by Iain Leach from

Photo Eight By Kulac – Self-published work by Kulac, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Nine by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (, but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution,

Photo Ten by By ©entomartIn case of publication or commercial use, Entomart wishes then to be warned (, but this without obligation. Thank you., Attribution,

Photo Eleven by By Mick Talbot – British Moths, CC BY 2.0,

Photo Twelve by Patrick Clement from West Midlands, England, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Poking Your Tongue Out….

Dear Readers, few things make me happier than the first hairy-footed flower bees. They often arrive before the end of March, and they have a great fondness for my flowering currant bush. The males are unmistakable – they have white faces, as if they’ve run head-first into some putty. And look at the length of that tongue! I love the way that they fly around with their tongues out, like little knights about to head into a joust.

The hairy-footed flower bee (or Anthophora plumipes to give the correct name) is generally an early riser – my Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Stephen Falk suggests that the males can be on the wing as early as mid February, though they’d have been blown about rather roughly if they’d put in an appearance in February this year. The males are said to appear two to three weeks before the females, who are jet black but have russet hairs on their legs and collect pollen, unlike the chaps who are just after the nectar and some lurve. I did spot a female this morning, but as usual she was too speedy for me – the males seem to hover and hang around a lot more, while the females are very purposeful. There is a suggestion that the males hold territories around desirable flowers, so now that I have a few days off I can spend some time watching them.

The nests are usually made in crumbling brickwork and sometimes in chimneys, which is one reason why the females will sometimes appear indoors.

In the photo below you can just make out the white hairs on the last pair of legs, which indicates to me that they should be ‘hairy-legged’ rather than ‘hairy-footed’. Maybe that’s a bit too Morecombe and Wise for the apiphiles out there.

And they were not the only bees either; there were a couple of honeybees on the plant-whose-name-I’ve-forgotten. Remind me, readers! It’s evergreen with white or green flowers, and I have a couple strewn about the garden.

The ratio of leaf to flower on the potted grape hyacinths is gradually improving, plus I suddenly realised that they were fragrant, something I’d never noticed before. I think once they’ve gone over I’m going to liberate them from their pots and plant them around the pond to provide some cover.

And look, the fritillaries are coming into bloom!

And the wood anemones. Please turn a blind eye to the guano if you can. I think I’m going to get nappies for the visiting birds, they have no manners at all.

The marsh marigold is doing very well, and if the water in the pond gets much lower I am going to have to tip out the frogspawn. A lot of it looks as if it will be hatching soon, though.

And here is my one and only self-sown lesser celandine. I’ve got some way to go before the garden is as full of golden flowers as the cemetery is, but there you go, it’s a start. I might regret ever bewailing their rarity, I know.

And finally, here are a few more shots of the hairy-footed flower bees. I am very pleased with this flowering currant, but the one next to the pond is looking very sad this year, I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. I think I’ll let it flower, cut it back a bit and then give it some TLC. I’m not sure how long they live, but I know I’ve had it for ten years, so it deserves a bit of a rest. Any way, let’s see. A garden is a perpetual work in progress, and none the worse for it.

Wednesday Weed – Danish Scurvygrass

Danish Scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica)

Dear Readers, I do love finding a ‘proper’ new weed. Danish scurvygrass (Cochlearia danica) is a member of the cabbage family, and used to be found at the seaside, scattered on rocky shores or dangling from cliffs. However, since the 1980’s it has spread along roads that are salted during icy periods, and so it has popped up in the cemetery, right next to where the traffic roars along the North Circular Road. Salt spells the end of the game for most plants, but where they are already adapted to briny coastal conditions they have a great advantage: they can grow where not much else will. And I just learned that the name for a plant or animal that enjoys salty conditions is a halophile, so that’s another new word.

The speed of the traffic wafts the seeds along the road and Danish scurvygrass can often be spotted under the crash barriers in the central reservation of a motorway, and for a view of the plant in all its roadside glory, have a look here.In Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey reports how the plant seems to be spreading along main roads at a rate of about 10 to 15 miles per year.

In March and April, its profusion of low-growing, small white flowers can look like a layer of hoar-frost on the edge of the central reservation’

The name of the plant might make you think that it had been brought over by the Vikings but in fact this is a native plant, although Scandinavians might well have chewed on a handful during their voyages because it is very high in Vitamin C. The leaves are tiny though, so you’d need to pick quite a lot to stop your fingernails from dropping out. Pliny the Elder(23-79 A.D) first described a disease that sounds a lot like scurvy and mentioned that there was a Herba Britannica that could cure it. In 1662, the Rev. George Moore suffered so much from scurvy that he devoted himself to the plants that could cure it, publishing Cochlearia curiosa: or the curiosities of scurvygrass ‘ in 1676. There are various species of scurvy grass in the UK, and common scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) was the one most commonly used medicinally. This species is a real coastal plant, though it is also taking to the (salted) roads in the South West.

Common scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) on Bear Island in Norway, with Guillemots

What is astonishing is that although the cure for scurvy is fruit and vegetables, this was forgotten over and over again during the history of mankind – in fact it took until 1747 before James Lind, a naval surgeon on HMS Salisbury, conducted trials of different kinds of foods to see which actually worked, concluding that citrus fruits were the best at preventing the disease. Sadly he was ignored, and during the 18th century more sailors died of scurvy than from enemy action. These days scurvy can still be found, even in the UK, particularly amongst those with alcoholism, mental illness or who are suffering generally from malnutrition. In the world as a whole it is a disease of the most desperate, and can frequently be found in refugee camps.

The leaves of Danish scurvygrass are said to taste like horseradish, with a mustardy, peppery flavour, and have featured in the dishes of Rene Redzepi, formerly owner of Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant on multiple occasions. Redzepi forages for food in his native Denmark, so it’s no surprise that Danish scurvygrass should crop up as an ingredient. The buds can also be eaten, apparently, by those who don’t mind their ‘explosive’ taste. As someone who accidentally ate a chunk of wasabi paste the other day and spent ten minutes with their nose on fire and their eyes watering, I think I’ll pass, but let me know how you get on. Several sites describe the plant as ‘an acquired taste’ and having a ‘punch in the face flavour’, and in fact one site actually mentions that it can be used in place of wasabi, or in pesto. However, for sheer fun have a look at this clip from The Social, a Scottish TV show, where you can find out how to incorporate scurvygrass into your bangers and mash. And in case you still have a whole road-side of scurvy grass to use up, here’s a recipe for scurvy grass ale which also incorporates senna pods, surely not a good idea.

The flowers are said to have a sweet smell, at least on South Uist where the plant grows on the cliffs.

And finally, a poem. John Clare had such an understanding of the countryside in which he roamed, and I especially love his attention to the small, unnoticed flowers of hedgerow and field. This poem, by Susan Kinsolving, seems to me to sum up the tragedy of the enclosure of England, and the how the world was changed. It won an Individual award from the Poetry Society of America in 2009, and well-deserved too.

Susan Kinsolving


The open-field system would end. Every acre was enumerated
in a way John Clare could not comprehend. Why should footpaths
have fences, streams be made straight, why fell trees, wall a field
and lock it with a gate? No longer could he drink from Eastwell
the bubbling water was penned by scaffolding. No Trespassing

at every turn, posted over scurvy-grass, loosestrife, vetch,
clover, and fern. Clare doffed his cap and wept for his right to
in chicory, thistle, briony and buttercup, he’d always been at
Or coming upon a gypsy camp (fires and tambourines!) he’d
his fleabane, borage, parsley, some beans. Once again the

had lost to the well-to-do, those new proprietors of blackberry,
nettle, toadflax, and meadow rue. Clare questioned his sanity,
a familiar hell, but tramped on to say his farewell to mallow,
oxlip, and pimpernel. He knew this ramble was one of his last;
field, farm, and forest would be enclosed. The open world was


New Scientist – The Mirror Test

Horse looking in the mirror (Photo by Baragli, P., Scopa, C., Maglieri, V. et al.
Read more:

Dear Readers, every time we get a glimpse into the cognition of animals, it seems that we feel a need to raise the bar higher. So it has been with the Mirror Test. In a traditional Mirror Test, an animal is anaesthetised and then a mark is put on a part of the body that can only be seen in a mirror. When the animal revives, it will ‘pass’ the test if it investigates the mark, which scientists believe means that the animal recognises that it sees itself in the mirror, rather than another animal.

Animals that have ‘passed’ this test include great apes, one single Asiatic elephant, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie and cleaner wrasse, little stripy fish who pick the parasites off of larger fish. Animals that have ‘failed’ include sea lions, a wide variety of monkeys, octopuses and some birds that are renowned for their intelligence, including the New Caledonian Crow (famed for its tool-making abilities) and the African grey parrot (one of which, Alex, had a vocabulary of thousands of words and the ability to sort items into categories by colour or shape). It’s therefore clear that the Mirror Test is not a test of intelligence, but scientists believe that it indicates self-awareness.

So, to the horses. Paolo Baragli of the University of Pisa in Italy released 14 horse one at a time into an area with a large mirror. After an initial period of being aggressive to, or curious about, the horse that they saw in the mirror, Baragli reports that they started to do things like stick out their tongues and watch their reflections as they moved their heads from side to side. When a mark was put on their faces, 11 out of the 14 horses spent time trying to remove it by rubbing their heads.

Pretty conclusive, huh? Not according to the developer of the Mirror Test, Gordon Gallup at the University of Albany in New York. He disagrees that the horses recognised themselves in the mirror before the mark was put on, and none of them used the mirror to look at a part of their body that they couldn’t normally see. For Gallup, this is a fundamental part of the process, that is then verified by the use of the ‘mark’.

There have been many criticisms of the Mirror Test. For one thing, dogs don’t pass, largely because they use their sense of smell and hearing much more than their sense of sight. Cats, predictably, fail because they just aren’t interested. Pigs have passed a version of the test in which they use a mirror to find food, but don’t seem especially interested in looking at themselves. Gorillas have repeatedly failed the test, but this might be because eye-contact is seen as an aggressive act and so the apes tend not to spend much time investigating what looks like another gorilla at first glance.

Furthermore, even in animals where individuals display the ‘correct’ behaviour, others may not. Three Asian elephants were given the mirror test at the Bronx Zoo in 2006 – one of them ‘passed’ but the other two did not. This seems to me to say more about the personality of the elephants involved than their cognitive abilities or sense of self.

It’s very common for humans to set up parameters for a test which animals can then ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, without taking into consideration not only the inner worlds of the creatures being investigated, but their physical abilities and the environment in which they lived. I remember the view of Noam Chomsky, who maintained that humans were the only animals with language ability, and remained unimpressed by the chimpanzees and other great apes who were taught, and used, sign language in the 1960’s, even after the chimps started to make up their own nouns (Washoe, the most famous of these apes, made the phrase ‘water+bird’ on seeing a swan. We insist on dragging animals into our world rather than meeting them where they are, and looking at what’s important to them. Our science often shows a cataclysmic failure of imagination.

Nonetheless, it looks as if horses *might* have passed the Mirror Test, and so can be admitted to the pantheon of creatures who are self-aware. This is probably not, however, news to anyone who has spent any time with these animals.

You can read the whole article here 

Magic Animals

Dear Readers, I’m sure that for all of us there are animals that, when they appear in our gardens or we bump into them during a walk in the countryside, fill us with awe and joy. For example, my garden is regularly visited by foxes at night, but seeing them in broad daylight always sets me up for the day. This little vixen popped in on Thursday morning  for no apparent reason other than to check if there were any suet pellets for the birds that she could hoover up.

Another creature that always makes me run for my camera is the rose-ringed parakeet. No doubt I would be a lot crosser if they visited every day and dismantled my birdfeeders, but as they only stop by about once a year I am more than happy to see them.

Then there is the grey heron who visited for a few days during 2019 and seemed to spend most of his time eating the frogs in the pond. What a shock he was! And how reading this piece takes me back to those days just after Mum had died, and when Dad was still adjusting to life in the nursing home.


And while we’re on the theme of unexpected visitors, the sparrowhawk always brings a frisson to the garden. To be confronted by the struggle for life that is taking place every day in the natural world is a challenging thing, but I am still stunned by the audacity and the strength of these birds. This visit in 2017 summed it all up for me…

And finally, I would hardly be Bugwoman without having a love for the insects that visit the garden, especially the more unusual ones. This female Emperor Dragonfly absolutely made my day as she tried to lay her eggs on the wooden steps, and I now have some rotting wood permanently placed in the pond just in case she comes back.

And this beautiful rose chafer beetle made my day in 2020, on a hot August afternoon when it felt as if lockdown would never end.

And how about this beautiful Jersey Tiger moth, now being seen in some numbers every year?

So, over to you readers! What are the animals that make you gasp when they make an appearance? What of your garden visitors make you happiest? Pop your answers in the comments, and let me know if you have photos – I’d love to make a ‘favourite garden animals from around the world’ post in a few weeks. I bet we’ve all got some stories to tell!