Tag Archives: gardens

Flower Power in April

Of all of our months, April brings with it the most spectacular changes to the Wicklow landscape, so I’ve decided to showcase the changes so nobody can be in any doubt. This April was very sunny, dry and warm with very few ‘April showers’, until these last few days. Firstly, in the towns, villages and gardens, we had the cherry trees blossoming.

A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
A typical cherry tree in blossom against a bright blue sky.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.
Beautiful pink blossoms, but some cherry blossoms are white.

Now, under cold breezes and rain of the last few days these blossoms are beginning to fall like snow flakes. However, some are only now starting to blossom properly. However, while the streets were and are lined with these beautiful trees the surrounding Wicklow hills steadily turned bright yellow as the jungles of Furze bushes also blossomed. Their flowers filled the mountain air with the scent of vanilla.  They will continue to blossom for some time, and have another less-spectacular blossoming in the summer.

Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.
Furze or Gorse blooming bright yellow over the evergreen spiny leaves of this painful plant, much-loved by nesting birds.The blossoms are very popular with bees, particularly Honey Bees.

Meanwhile, along the laneways and roadways of the Wicklow countryside the fleshy Alexanders have grown tall and putting a subtle fragrance on the spring air which can only be found in springtime. These plants die off in June and should be treated with respect as they are so vital to pollinating insects so early in the year.

Spring just wouldn't be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed.
Spring just wouldn’t be spring without these roadside umbellifers. When the Alexanders die off they will be replaced by the hairy rough-stemmed Hogweed. In this photo you can see another spring flower, the yellow-flowered Lesser Celandine, growing alongside.

These plants grow on the roadside verges in front of the hedges, but in the hedges the wild Blackthorn trees have their white blossoms right now. They don’t really have a scent, but the blossoms are associated with ancient pagan fertility rites, and in recent times girls making their first Holy Communions would wear little tiaras of blackthorn blossom on their heads. The blossoms are very tough compared to cherry blossoms and don’t break easily.

The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.
The Blackthorn is famous for its extremely strong black branches, which are still made into walking sticks, and were used in stick-fighting by Irish men up until the late 19th century (and currently being revived as a sport and martial art in some areas), but the blossom was actually considered sacred and magical to the ancient Irish, and was an especially potent religious emblem up until recent decades.

Behind the hedgerows, in the fields, you have a good chance of seeing the great spring blooming of dandelions. These much-maligned wildflowers (not ‘weeds’) consitute entire eco-systems in their own right, and they are also edible and considered extremely good for cleansing the liver of impurities, which is why they should be eaten in moderation. They are the favourite flowers of many bee species, particularly the tiny Nomada cuckoo bees.

A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.
A sea of Dandelions in a field, and in the hedgerow behind you can see a mighty white blossoming of Blackthorn.

And then in the gardens the orchard trees are also blossoming. The Pear trees went first, as usual, and most have already lost the blossoms, which have been shorn from the trees by rain and dispersed by wind. But this is what they looked like at their height only just over a week ago –

Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year.
Fresh pear blossoms in an orchard. Each blossom could potentially become an actual pear fruit, but in actuality only a small fraction do so because there are so few insects about capable of pollintaing these trees at this time of year. Pear blossom has a strange scent, almost like the fruit when it is cut, but more fragrant.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.
The height of the pear blossoming. Sadly these flowers last only a little over a week in even the most favourable conditions, as we had this April.

Finally, in many of the older gardens and escaped into nearby hedgerows, you will find dense shrubs of Flowering Currant. Every spring they turn red due to their scented hanging blossoms. These flowers are loved by almost all species of bee and hoverfly, not to mention human beings.

Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.
Flowering Currant on a bright sunny day. This year they had an exceptional blossoming. Make sure to stop and smell them.

And that’s just the blossoms and flowers making their presence felt in April. May will bring with it a whole area of blossoming trees and wild flowers . Every tree and flower has its moment in Wicklow.

April Warming and the Mining Bees

Saturday was the first decent warm sunny day in Wicklow this spring, and Tawny Mining Bees immediately appeared. Most of them were males, about twelve all newly hatched out, but there were two larger females giving them a wide berth.

My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don't look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar 'culture' and distinctive weapns too, as you'll see.
My first photo of a Tawny Mining Bee this year, a male. The males don’t look particularly distinctive and not exactly handsome and their sole objective is to mate with females, which gives them a peculiar ‘culture’ and distinctive weapns too, as you’ll see.
It's not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!
It’s not easy to get a good photo of a Tawny Mining Bee, particularly the males, but I finally got a decent headshot. Look at the size of those jaws!

Many mammal species have horns and antlers which allow the males to fight off other males for the right to mate with females and pass on their genetics. Similarly male Tawny Mining Bees have enormous jaws to allow them win these fights. The female is a very different insect.

Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Looking like a miniature bumblebee, female Tawny Mining Bees have stout reddish furry bodies and distinctive black heads. They also rarely sit still.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.
Under the wings you can see a very handsome shimmering abdomen covered in horizontal rows of red fur which glints in bright sunlight. A lovely insect. But they live only a very short time.

Tawny Mining Bees fly mostly for the month of April and not much beyond that. So for the next few weeks they will be very busy doing important work, which involves a huge amount of digging.

 

November Settling In

Every November is different. Some are unseasonably warm and dry. But this year we have a classic example. On Halloween night the temperature was 17 degrees Celsius but it suddenly dropped on November 1 and has been good and cold ever since, with some heavy rain thrown in for good measure. In short, it feels like a real autumn. And now the wildlife is getting in on the act. Three days ago I saw this beautiful sight:

It's not easy to tell here but these are Brent Geese flying inland in formation towards the mountains of Wicklow, possibly making their way to the Blessington Lakes in west Wicklow.
It’s not easy to tell here but these are Brent Geese flying inland in formation towards the mountains of Wicklow, possibly making their way to the Blessington Lakes in west Wicklow.

Geese are, of course, the definitive proof that we are in the darker half of the year as Ireland serves as a wintering-ground for a number of species. One or two geese will stay in parks or on lakes all year, but these are very few in number as Ireland becomes too hot for them in spring and summer. But there are smaller migrations too – in September and October Blackbirds and Robins (and many other birds) seem to disappear from gardens but this is largely because they are migrating. Then new ones appear. Right now birds are arriving in gardens to feed on berries on the shrubs and trees.

A handsome male Blackbird feeding on the few remaining berries in the topmost canopy of a rowan tree, which is also known as the mountian ash.
A handsome male Blackbird which has come to feed on the few remaining berries in the topmost canopy of a rowan tree, which is also known as the mountian ash.

However, wherever there are still flowers blooming there will be a few bees around to collect their nectar on the few sunny afternoon hours.

A Honey Bee collecting nectar from a saucer-sized cosmos, a popular garden flower which is found in meadows in Europe but not in Ireland... yet.
A Honey Bee collecting nectar from a saucer-sized cosmos, a popular garden flower which is found in meadows in Europe but not in Ireland… yet. The pollen sacs on her legs are swollen with pollen, probably because the hover flies have largely disappeared¬† with the onset of cold weather and aren’t around to compete with the bees. There are also, of course, fewer bees, so more work and pollen for those remaining.