Category: Nature


The middle of June to the end of July (and tying up odds and ends into August) is always a crazy, busy time at work for me. I got called into the boss’s office today and was told it’s going to be even worse than usual and I’ve been asked to take on more. They have promised to cross my palm with more silver. I said I wanted enough silver to have a suit made at a tailors of my choice and some handmade shoes that have taken my fancy. Neither of these will come cheap. As people know me can testify, I’m practically walking around in rags and tatters. They said yes. 

All that extra work means my team will have to rearrange stuff we need to do, reschedule some, put some off until later, do what we can before the 19th. We went for a walk to clear heads, have a coffee and see what could be done. Most will be OK but I’m going to have to go back in, I think, and negotiate some temporary help. We spent the afternoon putting everything on the new calendar and made a list of stuff that can’t go on. We put that on a separate calendar and, hopefully, the extra person can do that. If you go in prepared with lots of flow charts you can generally get what you want I find. Especially if you threaten to take them through all your flow charts dull detail by dull detail.

We walked over to the Fountain Pool. I’m amazed how the camera on my iPhone catches the falling water. I’m told it’s not a great camera but really what more could you ask? I should upgrade my phone (9 year olds laugh at it) and am told that the phones on more advanced iPhones are head and shoulders better than this one. We will see.

The early summer flowers are coming out. These are Astilbes…

These purple flowers are a form of wild Geraniums. The bright red ones we see in pots and call Geraniums are actually Pelargoniums fyi…

These are Day Lilies. We grow them for their beautiful flowers but I was listening to James Wong on Gardener’s Question Time (when did I get so old?) and he said that where his family hail from in Malaysia they are grown for food as a salad crop. In my defence James Wong is a pretty cool guy…

I thought the Azalea season was over but I found this late one in a bed near the Fountain Pool. I’ll have to get one for our garden, I do like these beautiful, low growing, easy to look after bushes…

It wasn’t really a day for a wander in a garden. It should have been. It’s June and the summer flowers are coming in. But there were unseasonable high winds and heavy rain. Some parts of the country had all of June’s rain in one day. We did, at one point, wander into the woodland part of the garden but when branches started coming off the trees and we were pelted with pine cones, we beat a retreat to the safer part of the garden. Driving back to the city whole trees blocked the roads in places.

I’d like a garden that you have to go into through a gate in an ancient brick wall….

And leave by another gate in an ancient brick wall…

Peonies are in blousey bloom in all our gardens but these weren’t enjoying the wind…

They need a bit of a trim, but look carefully at these topiary trees and you can see two squirrels…

Rufford has a impressive, herbaceous border. It will be in full bloom later in the summer, lots of green today…

The tall purple/pink foxgloves and blue delphiniums should have been the stars of the show but, with their height, they were suffering in the wind…

A couple of cherubs (or are they putti?) having a rumble over a bunch of grapes…

I’d like a garden with a wildflower meadow with an orchard…

This rose is an ancient one that would have been in all Tudor gardens. Highly perfumed, it’s the red rose of Lancashire, appropriate for a garden in this part of the world. Put together with the white rose of Yorkshire and you get the Tudor Rose seen in paintings and buildings of that age…

Will have to try this. We have a big slug problem this year and I hate using chemicals in the garden…

Oversized deck chairs seem to be a thing this year. I only seem to see them on wet, miserable days though…

The Ariana Grande concert at Lancashire Cricket Club went on sale this morning. It sold out in 6 minutes! 50,000 people will be there. It starts at 7pm, UK time, this Sunday and the BBC will be transmitting it for the rest of us to watch. Apparently it will be shown around the world so check locally if you want to watch. Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Take That, Pharrell Williams, Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry, Usher, Robbie Williams, Little Mix and others, along with Ariana Grande, are booked to play. We’re still waiting to hear if Oasis will play to sing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, the song that has become an anthem for Manchester in the last few days. Rumours are flying about that Madonna will play as well. It’s going to be a big and emotional event.

But, life goes on for the rest of us, in spite of the unreal atmosphere in the city. My team went out for one of our outdoor, walking meetings to discuss stuff. The weather was fine so it was nice to get out of the office. It’s not just an excuse to get out of the office and have a coffee, we do actually sort things out. Honest!

They’ve taken down some dull, 1960s buildings near our offices. Something more impressive and suitable for 21st century business will be built we are told. In the meantime nature has taken over. There were great splashes of yellow on the site. On closer inspection they turned out to be Bird’s Foot Trefoil, the food source of the (not so)  Common Blue Butterfly. I hope that when the buildings go up they find some space for a little wildness so these plants are their rare butterflies can thrive. No butterflies today but the bees were enjoying it.

We headed over to the lake (coffee shop is nearby). The Yellow Flag Irises are in full bloom now along the edge.

There were a few purple irises as well.

I spotted some purple/pink Field Orchids among the irises. They are quite happy in England, orchids aren’t restricted to the tropical rain forests.

These apricot coloured Rhododendrons are just coming into flower. They look great here but this plant can swamp a suburban garden.

 

The map above is a Google Earth map of Manchester. You can tell where the city is by how the roads converge on the city centre. And you can pick out the circular M60 ring road. What is striking is how green the map is. You can barely see the difference between the green of the surrounding countryside and the green of the city. We are a very verdant city. Apart from the huge number of parks and playing fields, this is partially due to how we like to live. While in some countries, people like to live in apartment blocks, we British prefer to live in a house, set in a garden on a tree lined avenue or road. Hence all the green. With all the trees and gardens comes a lot of wildlife that we share the city with. There are now more foxes living in towns and cities in the UK than there are in the countryside for instance. And I suspect that there are more trees per acre in Manchester than there are in rural Chrshire which is dominated by fields of crops or grass surrounded by thin lines of trees.

Not all of Manchsster is green of course. The centre, marked by the stars, is (if you strip the stars off) grey. Manchester city centre is intensely urban with streets lined with buildings. The stars, by the way, mark places in the city centre where new buildings are going up. We have the builders in big time at the moment. To the left (or west of, if you want to be geographical) of the city centre is a huge area of grey and white. This is the Trafford Park industrial estate, big on factories but low of trees. Ironically Trafford Park used to be the country estate of the well to do Trafford family, with a large house and a deer park. As Victorian Manchester grew the Traffords decided to decamp to another estate in Cheshire and allow this one to turn over to industry. The Trafford family are an ancient and wealthy one with a family tree that can be traced back a 1000 years. Across the map there are a few other areas where grey marks highly urban areas of the city but the dominant colour is still green.

I love trees. They are beautiful and important to the ecology of the planet and we need more of them. They are trying to introduce them into the city centre which is a good thing but it doesn’t always work. Our streets are relatively narrow and and buildings are disproportionately tall. Some streets have the canyon effect like you get in New York but on a smaller scale. We don’t have grand, wide boulevards like Paris with space to plant trees. We don’t have an arrangement of buildings with courtyards in the centre like you see in Italian cities like Florence or Spanish cities like Barcelona. In those cities, as you walk around, you get enticing views of the gardens hidden within. 

In Manchester we have narrow pavements which have to work hard to cope with the people who use them. We do have trees and they work well in squares like Albert, St Ann’s and Hardman. They can be planted away from the buildings and enhance them rather than hide them. But in some places they have planted them on the narrow pavement and they are a bit of a disaster.

Here is one. If I’m in the city centre on my own and feel like a snack I like to go to the Pret A Manger sandwich shop on Cross Street. And I like to sit at one of the high tables along the windows and watch the world go by and admire the architecture of Cross Street. On the corner of Cross Street and St Ann’s Street is this rather grand Victorian office block. It has one of the most beautiful façades in the city with this impressive entrance. You can see it clearly as you walk out of St Ann’s Square. The Frankie and Benny’s sign I’ll deal with another day. GAP, next door have done their signs well.

But from my stool in the window of Pret A Manger the view is completely different with this tree, the wrong sort in the wrong position, completely ruining the view of one of the best buildings in the city. I’d have it down!

Almost overnight, one of my favourite plants in our garden has come into flower. It’s the intensely purple/blue flowers of the Iris Siberica. I find the complicated arrangement of the petals, the colours and the details of the patterning beautiful and always look forward to them coming out. The bees were enjoying them as well this morning.

Last Autumn I picked up a couple of boxes of very reasonably priced allium bulbs from ASDA. Alliums are ornamental onions and the bulbs do look like small onions. I didn’t taste one though. I’d forgotten about them but they are just starting to bloom. You get a globe of little purple stars. I’m pleased with them and will get some more this Autumn for next Spring.

It’s been a long day. Up stupidly early to get over to Yorkshire for a early meeting, then back to the office and then over to HOME to see some associates. I was able to have a Friday afternoon ‘attitude adjuster’ there before jumping on the tram system to get home. I got talking to an Irish guy and his small son. They’d flown over yesterday to see Manchester United play and had spent today riding around on the trams and the trains before flying back to Ireland. The little son is fascinated with trains and, as they live in the rural  heart of Ireland, he doesn’t get to see many. He was impressed with how all the lines interlinked and how the trams linked with the trains and how we knew where to change lines and so on. He showed me his ticket that he was taking into school on Monday as part of his ‘show and tell’ session he’s going to do to make up for two days off school to see a game. I showed him my ticket on my phone and explained about the app and how I bought it before leaving home. He was impressed. I may get a mention in his ‘show and tell.’

When I got home two ducks were wandering around the garden. A male and female Mallard duck. The female is the brown one, so she can camouflage herself when on a nest, and the male is the brightly coloured one designed to attract the ladies. I could be wrong, but these could be the couple of ducks that have appeared for the past few years in our neighbourhood. They are not concerned about people or cars coming and going and we all look out for them when we drive about. They were quite happy to allow me to get close to take these pictures.

It’s been the warmest day of the year so far. My car dashboard recorded 23C (74F) for the first time this year. And it’s been dry, we’ve had so little rain of late that the grass is beginning to brown; something that doesn’t usually happen until July or August if then.

I got home a little early and needed some thinking time so I took myself off for a bit of a walk. I’m lucky to live right on the very edge of the city (but still 30 minutes from the city centre) and within a couple of minutes I’m out in the lanes on the surrounding farmland.

I found some Forget-Me-Nots. These tiny flowers have lilac buds but, as they open, they turn this bright shade of blue with yellow centres. The mythical story about the name is interesting. Two lovers were walking along the banks of the River Danube. The lady saw the flowers. Her boyfriend, while picking her a posy of the flowers, fell into the river. As he was swept away he called ‘Forget me not!’

These flowers with their umbrellas of tiny white flowers are everywhere at the moment along the edges of fields. They are called Cow Parsley because of the leaves. Or Queen Ann’s Lace after the intricacy and delicacy of the flowers. Or, if you like your stories darker, Mother Die, as they are supposed to bring bad luck into your home if you cut some and take them inside.

I found some wild roses. Apart from the one in our garden, these usually come out before the cultivars we have in our parks and gardens. The genes of this simple plant are in all of the complicated ones we like to grow. This one is white, the flower of the County of Yorkshire, but on the wrong side of the border. In spite of roses being the flower of England and very much entwined in our history and culture, they are not natives. They were brought here by the Romans to decorate their gardens. From there they escaped into the wild.

Just a little post today. I was washing some dishes by hand in the kitchen (it does happen occasionally). While doing so I could see into the garden. I noticed what I thought was a flash of light on some leaves. Either that or some of the new growth was dying off which was worrying. On inspection I found that it was the first rose of summer. May is quite early for roses but it has been dry and warm of late so maybe it brought it on. I’ll have to keep an eye on dates things appear to see if there is pattern. We do seem to have earlier springs and summer lingers well into September and October as well. Winter, which I do like, seems to be being squeezed from both sides. That could be worrying but, in the meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the early roses. 

If the weather is nice and we have something to discuss and think about it’s good to get out of the office to do it. We are blessed with an office building set in a park and surrounded by little areas of woodland full of old trees, wildflowers and creatures. The assorted creatures that share our space seem quite happy to do so and are used to people and cars coming and going and show no fear of us and we appreciate them.

This morning, as we wandered over to get a coffee from the park hub, I spotted some Pink Campion in flower, the first of the season. I couldn’t get too close to it as it was surrounded by brambles and nettles. Makes mental note for blackberries for later in the year.

‘Cast ne’er a clout ’till May be out’ is a phrase we have in England. It either means keep your winter clothes on until the end of May or until the May (Hawthorn) blossom is out. It’s out now with great clouds of white blossom and its heady perfume so maybe it’s time to start casting my ‘clouts’. We will see. Don’t hold your breath. The bees were loving these flowers. Later in the year there will be bitter, red berries, called haws, that see the birds through winter. You can make a jelly from them that is supposed to be nice served with cold meats. Do not believe anyone who tells you this. It is vile!

I like to visit these beds of Azalea bushes near the office. They are slow and low growing, covered with tiny dark leaves most of the year. But for a few weeks in May they are smothered with these brilliant pink and red flowers. We have some azaleas in our gardens in other colours and I think we need more. They are stunning.

Around the lake the wild Yellow Flag Iris are just starting to come out. They like to grow right on the edge of the lake with their roots in water and their heads in the sun. Just a few at the moment but in a few days, with some sunshine, there will be hundreds.

I spotted this mother duck and some ducklings having a chill by the edge of the lake. I nearly missed them as their colours were camouflaged with the soil and the surrounding plants. They were quite happy for me to get close to take the pictures. They are used to people and have no fear of us.

I always give the Canada Geese a wide berth. They are big and move about in groups and look like they could handle themselves in a fight.

On the lawn there was this drift of white Narcissi. I’m not sure why we call the ones that come up in May, Narcissi, while the ones that flower in February, March and April we call daffodils. They are all part of the same family. What we call daffodils tend to be mostly yellow with the big trumpets. Narcissi, like these, tend to have white petals and smaller trumpets, these are a delicate yellow and edged with red as if someone has painted it on. These are the last of the season, once these have finished there will be no more until next year.

I liked these Rhododendrons. They are the bigger cousins of the azaleas. They grow fast and can get out of hand. They were brought from the mountains of China and the like and have found they like the UK. In some parts of the country they have escaped from gardens and have become a real pest, colonising entire mountainsides and crowding out native plants and creatures. These seem to be under control though. I loved how the buds are dark pink but, as they open, they turn pale pink and then white.  

Japanese Acers (Acer Palmatum) are a family of trees that are found in Japan (obviously), Korea, China, Mongolia and eastern Siberia. They are related to the maple family of trees and sycamores that we find in Europe and North America. With green leaves in Spring and summer, they turn brilliantly coloured in the Autumn. 

We like the Japanese Acers because of their colour, the daintiness of the leaves and that they are small and slow growing. They are happy in pots and, fed and watered, they will thrive on a patio, terrace or a balcony. Everyone can find one for even the tiniest garden. They are slow growing so, by the time they become big enough to be a nuisance, you are likely to be beyond worrying. 

I found this one in Chorlton last year. The guy who sells outside the Post Box Café had them. I thought I’d killed it. It got lost, in its pot, under a patch of Montbretia, didn’t get watered and lost all its leaves but it came back this Spring, stronger than before. I will take more care this year.

This one I found at a flower and plant show I went to, last Summer, in Chorley. It was bought from a specialist grower and was very reasonably priced. I loved the leaves and the colour.

Both of them were red so I wanted a green one. I did the rounds of the garden centres and couldn’t find anything the size, or price, I wanted. But, calling in at the DIY shed, B&Q, I found this one for only £4. We can enjoy watching it grow. I’ve put some marigolds in their pots for over summer. 

It looks like it has just rained but I’d been out watering the pots. We’re having a dry patch in the UK at the moment, and (we’re never happy) farmers are struggling to keep crops watered and we gardeners are having problems keeping our gardens green. Another picture of our new duck who doesn’t really need his waterproofs at the moment.

Some pictures of the white Wild Cherry Blossom tree in our garden today. It’s in full bloom, it’s perfume is wonderful and it looks beautiful against the blue of the sky.