Mid August Update and the Great British Garden Party

Another month, another update, and hoping all members have enjoyed their gardens over the last few weeks. I know that Tina and Derek have, and have been very busy too, with a major clearing out of their big pond. Thanks very much to Tina for sending me these photos of the work in progress.

I think Tina may even have some spare pieces some of her lovely waterlilies available for interested members. Do get in touch if you’d like more details. Tina says:

I didn’t offer before the dredging of the pond because I couldn’t get any waterlilies out – but now we have floating debris and a boat so if anyone wants some small parts of 3 colours of big flowered lilies and masses of the tiny yellows – see before and after photos – we will be going out on the pond from this Saturday when we get the landing stage repaired.
But the landing stage has been mended today -the rain is filling up the pond and we will get the boat out on Monday for a trial and to take out some of the rushes debris – I am delighted with the regrowth of many of the pond plants and know that the moorhen didn’t leave so who knows what we will see.

Members will already know from Elena’s email, that regrettably the club’s committee has decided to cancel the remaining planned indoor meetings for the rest of 2020 because of ongoing restrictions on indoor gatherings due to the Covid pandemic, and the risk of an autumnal resurgence in case numbers. Membership subscriptions from 2020 will be carried forward to cover the next year, and any ongoing club expenses will be met from club reserves.

As a means of at least allowing some club members to meet up, Julian and Fiona had the idea of using the upcoming NGS initiative of the “Great British Garden Party” as both focal meeting points for club members as well as being a way of raising some much needed funds for the nursing charities which the NGS supports. Click here to read more about it, and you’ll see that it’s open for anyone to host a party – you don’t have to already have a garden opening for the NGS.  Although as Elena outlined, each event should be numbers limited.

I know a lot of members have already got in touch with Elena with offers of either hosting a get together, or expressing an interest in attending one or more of the garden parties. But if you haven’t replied to her yet and would like to come to one of the  parties, or indeed host one, do reply soon, as September will  be here before we know it.  When Elena has all the details she’ll email us again, and I’ll also try to put the details up on the website asap.

Here at Gelli uchaf, we’re hoping to hold our contribution to this event on Saturday September 5th at 2.30 pm, or if the forecast looks really bad for the afternoon,  (on the Friday before, but looks OK for the morning), then we’ll move it to 11.00 am. If all of Saturday looks bad, we’d switch it to Sunday September 6th with the same time options. We’d limit guest numbers to 8 maximum, and hopefully have a few plants for sale as well as providing a range of Fiona’s scrummy cakes and tea/coffee/soft drinks, and a chance to chat and have a look round the garden.  More details closer to the time for our potential visitors!

I’m sure we’ve all enjoyed some pretty variable weather recently.  On the night of the 11th here, we went outside to see if we could watch the Perseid meteor shower, and were treated to the most amazing silent lightning display in the North eastern sky, which we took to be over Ffarmers way. It turned out the storm was much more distant, over the border in Shropshire. For anyone who hasn’t seen them yet there are some wonderful photos of just how amazing the sometimes orange explosion light effects within the clouds were, on Welsh photographer Karl MaCarthy’s site, which he took 75 miles away from the storm in Tredegar. Click here. 

We’ve never experienced anything like it – standing in total silence in a star filled sky, whilst these sort of pyrotechincs lit up the horizon every second or so for over half an hour plus the added bonus of plenty of meteors. And no midges around on a balmy night to distract us!

Yesterday evening I thought I’d scatter the last few Snakeshead Fritillary seed which I’d saved from our top meadow, onto a section we’d cut for hay about 10 days ago, and in advance of today’s heavy rain. Another fortuitous decision, since as I finished, and turned round to head back down the hill, I saw a fantastic full half circle rainbow caught in the evening light with one of the crock of gold points exactly where all the lightning fireworks had been a week earlier.

Don’t we get some amazing weather round here, all in the space of a fortnight …

Two of the native plants, Knapweed and Devil’s bit Scabious, which we’ve introduced into our terrace garden over the last 2 years have begun to flower well this year. Both being chosen for their time of flowering, from August and then into September, as well as both being brilliant nectar plants for a range of bees and butterflies. Even better, one of the Devil’s-bit Scabious plants, collected from seed in a meadow at the bottom of our track has decided to produce really pale pink/lilac flowers as a nice complement to the blue/purple more commonly seen.

In the 25 years or so of owning Gelli Uchaf, swallows have been constant co–residents with us over the summer months, but perhaps on only half a dozen or so moments have I witnessed them playing feather tag, where usually just a pair, but sometimes more, will chase around the buildings and above the garden with the lead bird carrying a feather in its beak. Then losing it, or letting go deliberately (?), the race is on, given the speed they’re flying at, to see which can grab the lost feather first and take up the challenge. Usually a camera isn’t to hand but this time, in mid July, I was close enough to the back door as they whizzed along behind the house, so grabbed the camera, and they were still playing out over the apple trees and then back around the yard. The beauty of a bridge camera is having the ability to quickly switch to zoom, multiple exposure, tracking focus, low aperture (hence shorter exposure time) and swing the camera up, as they swept above me, before diving in through the barn door.

Game over.

So this is it folks! My only photo to date of swallow feather tag,  and you’ll have to look really closely to spy the feather in the lead, upper bird’s beak, but it is there. Honestly!

However, I’m really grateful to Andrea Gabriel, an American artist who’s captured this special moment perfectly in one of her beautiful paintings, and very generously given permission for me to reproduce “Barn Swallow Feather Game” above. Which communicates so much better than my image and the words before it, of the evident delights and flying skills of swallow tag.

Thanks very much Andrea! Do click here for more of Andrea’s wonderful work, which is also available to purchase on line.

Any other Cothigardeners who’ve seen swallows or indeed other birds playing feather tag, I wonder? Do let me know.

Finally one of my posts wouldn’t be complete without something on insects would it? So here goes…

In a previous post, I’d shown the huge waves of male drone bees returning to the butter churn hive after trips made to the mating aerial drone congregation areas in June. The swarm season now having largely ended, hopefully, and with food supplies available to workers beginning to decline, there comes a time when the colony determines that it’s time to get rid of the vast majority of these otherwise non productive male bees, which require food, yet contribute none to the colony, since they don’t collect nectar or pollen.

I’d read that this process can begin quite suddenly so was really pleased to be able to capture this moment on the morning of August 11th, the same day as the storm, when the much smaller female worker bees begin to grapple, drag and force the drones from the hive entrance. The poor drones, in spite of their larger physical size, can’t seem to resist the onslaught. I’m not sure whether the workers are using their jaws to chivy the drones as well.

Though the workers obviously possess a single use sting, they probably won’t want to use this,  since it might result in their own death, but standing beside the hive allowed me to watch a continuous stream of bees involved in this battle of the sexes in which there was only going to ever be one eventual winner. The set up of my hive with a sloping metal sheet beneath the hive entrance allows the determination of the harrying worker bees to be clearly seen.

The evicted drones will quickly starve to death, or suffer from hypothermia outside the warmth of the hive, and many will be approaching the end of their short life anyway. Yet another facet of the life cycle of the honeybee finely honed to optimise survival of the colony and species, over the individual.

And how, typically, it’s the gals who call the shots and exercise real power in this world!

Finally, as always, it would be lovely to keep hearing from members about their favourite plants, or things in their gardens as we go through the next few months. Why not write a few words and send an image or two, preferably resized down to less than 1 MB? I can’t promise to put everything up online immediately, but usually within a fortnight, and it’s a great way of keeping in touch and passing on information.

Or use the Cothigardeners Facebook Page.

You can send things to me at:


Thanks again to Tina and Derek for contributing to this post.

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