Dear Readers, July seems very far away from my current position, sitting in my office as the rain pours down and the sky is a uniform grey colour, but looking at these photos reminds me that it will arrive, eventually. It’s a month when many birds and other animals are leaving home for the first time, when bees and butterflies are on the wing and when flowering plants have reached a visual crescendo. And, just as many humans and their offspring go on holiday, so many living things are getting ready to slow down.
Things to Do
- Well, lovely Readers, what could be nicer on a hot summer afternoon than to find a shady spot and get stuck into a good book? On 28th July the shortlist for the James Cropper Wainwright Prize is announced – the longlist comes out on 23rd June, but as that includes 12 Nature Writing titles, 12 Conservation Writing titles and 12 Children’s Nature/Conservation Writing titles that might be a big ask for even the most dedicated reader. I have discovered some fantastic books in previous years: last year I was especially impressed by Dan Saladino’s ‘Eating to Extinction’ and Dave Goulson’s ‘Insect Apocalypse’ in the Conservation section, and ‘Shadowlands’ by Matthew Green and ‘Otherlands’ by Thomas Halliday in the Nature Writing section. ‘Nature Writing’ is a broad school, but it’s great to see the sheer variety of titles and diversity of people who are writing about the natural world these days, and who care so passionately about it.
- The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 4th to 9th July – lots of people who know about such things say that it’s a much more pleasant experience than Chelsea Flower Show which can be extremely crowded and difficult to get around. And I do believe that there’s the chance to get lots of plants very cheaply on the last day of the show. Just saying :-). If you live a bit further north there’s the Tatton Park Flower Show in Knutsford, Cheshire, from 19th to 23rd July.
- If you live in the West Country, Rosemoor Gardens (another RHS Garden based in Torrington, Devon) is holding two bat walks, one on Friday 7th July from 8.30 to 11 p.m, and one on Friday 21st July (same times), and very interesting they sound too.
Plants for Pollinators
The RHS suggests roses as their key plant for July, but as we know, not all roses are created equal. The single-flowered varieties can be abuzz all summer, and birds love the rosehips on some of the more ornamental varieties, such as Rosa rugosa. However, a big attraction of roses is that their leaves are used by leaf-cutter bees – the first time I realised that the UK has seven species of these bees I was stunned to think that we could have anything so exotic. Leaf-cutter bees have also taken a shine to some stray enchanter’s nightshade in my garden, though, as you can see…
You really are spoilt for choice in July, but here are some things that work for me.
Buddleia. Yes I know we’re not supposed to plant it, but mine planted themselves. I have dwarf buddleia in the back garden (which grows to about 9 feet all ahem) and the normal stuff in the front, which grows to about 15 feet tall and is most unruly and badly behaved, but is also forgiving of whatever pruning I attempt. Here is a selection of visitors.
Teasel. They say that once you’ve planted it, you’ll never be without it. But why would you want to be, when it’s this popular? And hopefully the finches will come in the winter.
Hemp agrimony. Another messy plant, but my oh my is it popular with pollinators, not just bees and butterflies but hoverflies and spiders too.
The RHS also recommends lavender (not the ‘bunny-ears’ French variety in my experience), angelica (indeed), marjoram (easy the most popular plant in my windowboxes), sea holly (which I’ve never tried but looks as if it should work very well) and purple toadflax (which I’m trying this year, having seen how popular it was as a ‘weed’ in Dorset.
In his book ‘The Secret Lives of Garden Birds’, Dominic Couzens says that July is the ‘month of goodbyes’, and for so many birds the breeding season is coming to an end, and they will soon be, literally, ’empty nesters’. This is the most challenging period for newly fledged birds, as they fend for themselves for the first time. Still, some parents are still diligently looking after their youngsters, as was the case with this family of sparrows in the garden in July 2021.
And these crows, seen from the dogwalkers’ café on Hampstead Heath.
Some birds are already pretty independent, like the young green woodpecker below.
Interestingly, Couzens mentions that in birds that have more than one brood in the year, such as blackbirds and robins, the parents often split the parental care after the young have been out in the world for a few days, with one parent taking sole charge of a particular number of youngsters. This means that the female has more time to feed up and prepare for her second brood, while not entirely neglecting the ones that have already left the nest.
This fledgling blackbird was being fed by his father…
And it’s impossible to say who was feeding this young robin, as the adults can’t be sexed by appearance. I was very glad to see him/her in July 2020, right in the middle of lockdown.
Plants in Flower
Too many to list, but here are a few favourites…
Wild carrot is gradually replacing the hogweed in the open places in the cemetery in July. It’s probably my favourite umbellifer (though I also love angelica. Decisions, decisions!)
The creamy smell of privet is coming from hedges everywhere, and very popular it is with hoverflies
All over the cemetery, the plants are in flower. There’s catsear…
and St John’s wort…
and, on some of the sunnier graves, there’s reflexed stonecrop..
and on others there’s white stonecrop…
and on yet others, there’s Caucasian stonecrop.
What a cornucopia! Truly, July is a wonderful time for a wander.
Other Things to Look/Listen Out For
- Moths and butterflies of all kinds – in London we had lots of hummingbird hawk moths and also a positive outbreak of Jersey Tigers.
- This is the time of year when you might first see young foxes in the garden or, more likely, hear them wrestling and fighting with that characteristic ‘gekkering’ sound. The poor exhausted adults will often have had enough at this time of year, and will start being more reluctant to feed their youngsters. They may even start to drive them away. This is the time of year when you are most likely to encounter dead foxes, most of whom will have been run down by cars, easily the biggest threat to the animals in the city.
- Make the most of the swifts circling and screaming in the skies this month, as they will soon be making the return journey to Africa.
- The full moon this month is on 3rd July, and is known as the Wyrt Moon (from Wort, meaning herb) or the Mead Moon. It’s the first of four supermoons in 2023, which means it should be noticeably bigger and brighter than other moons.
Holidays and Celebrations
- 8th and 9th July are the days for the Women’s and Men’s Singles Finals at Wimbledon, for you tennis lovers out there
- 15th July is St Swithuns Day – if it rains on St Swithun’s Bridge in Winchester today (Swithun was Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester), it is supposed to rain for the next forty days and nights so fingers crossed (although if last year’s drought conditions in some parts of the country were anything to go by, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing)
- 18th July is Islamic New Year (Al Hijra) which starts at the sighting of the crescent moon
- 23rd July is the birthday of Haile Selassie, and is one of the holiest days of the Rastafarian calendar
- 26th July is Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning, which commences at sundown