Photo Blog

I love observing nature and the changing seasons during my Norfolk countryside dog walks accompanied by my ever-faithful canine companion Starrydog. I especially enjoy taking photos of Norfolk butterflies, wildflowers and other flora and fauna that I happen across while exploring local nature reserves. Visit my Norfolk nature photo blog to keep up to date with my photographic adventures and enjoy my butterfly photos.

And Then There Were Nine...

Watching Nar Cottage's nature pond transform from a muddy hole in our clay earth into a lush, thriving, diverse insectopolis has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences of our five-year wildlife gardening project. Each year we've seen a new species of dragon or damselfly colonise our pond. This year a further arrival brought the grand total to some nine species, five dragonflies and four damselflies. Here they all are, in order of appearance and colonisation. This is the story of a humble pond's evolution into a local wildlife mecca.

Nar Cottage Pond and bog garden as it was in May 2014, newly planted with lots of bare earth

Nar Cottage wildlife pond as it is today, rich in aquatic and marginal vegetation and surrounded by a native wildflower meadow (June 2017)

First on the scene was a large male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly, Libellula depressa, arriving the very first week of June 2014, our pond's first spring, closely followed by a female.  A beautifully marked dragonfly of early summer with a penchant for shallow sunny ponds, the males are a dusky shade of powder-blue and the females a rich mustard yellow.

My first ever sighting of a Broad-bodied Chaser, Libella depressa, in my very own back garden, thanks to my new wildlife pond in June 2014

A golden yellow female Broad-bodied Chaser dragonly perched on red campion flowers

The dusky blue of the male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly, Libellula depressa

Broad-bodied Chasers return in 2018 after missing a year. Highly territorial, this one saw off a passing Southern hawker dragonfly.

Next to move in on the 1st of July was my very first damselfly species, the vivid Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella. Blue damselflies can be quite hard to identify but I discovered the Azure's distinguishing feature is that it has two short black stripes on the side of its thorax, whereas the Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum only has one. They took to our pond enthusiastically and set about ovipositing eggs for future generations!

Azure Damselflies ovipositing in tandem. Adult male Azure Damselflies are vivid turquoise. Most females have wide black bars on their abdomen with a lime green colour, about 10% are blue in colouration.

Immature Azure Damselflies are pale lilac (the females predominantly black as in their adult form) and have brown eyes.

Our third arrival was the dramatic and impressive Emperor Dragonfly, another species I'd never encountered before. Carrying an equally imperial latin name  Anax imperator is one of the UK's biggest dragonflies and undoubtedly the most regal. According to Lewington, the Emperor's "vigour, aggression and agility in flight are unequalled in Britain".

The Emperor has a reputation for being a bit of a pioneer species and is known for colonising younger ponds so it made sense to see it early on in our pond's existence. The larva have a fearsome reputation for their creative hunting methods and can occasionally mature in a single year although they usually take two. The surrounding meadow and in subsequent years also pond foliage rapidly filled in to envelop the pond so I never did see an Emporer again.

A female Emperor dragonfly, Anax imperator, ovipositing on the base of reeds

The vivid green and blue of the Emporer dragonfly

 

August brought another two species, one dragonfly, one damsel and the total to 5 dragonflies in our first season. Next up was the Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum, first spotted basking on the bare earth next to the pond. A month later I was even more excited to see a mating couple zooming around our pond, hopefully ensuring future generations to come.

My first sighting of a Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum, August 2014

A pair of mating Common Darter dragonflies mid-flight over my sparsely vegetated new pond, September 2014

A Common Darter dragonfly perched on Knapweed in my wildflower meadow, July 2016

My second August arrival proved to be the Common Blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum, which has a flight period from May through to September. Blue damsels can be tricky to distinguish from each other, but the single short stripe on the thorax and all blue tail segments help to separate the Common Blue from similar species, its also a stronger flier.

Common Blue damselfly perched on Brooklime, August 2014

Common Blue damselfly, drab form, immature, July 2016

My next new species didnt show up until nearly a year later in late July 2015 but, a bit like busses, suddenly two came at once. The Blue-tailed damselfly, Ishnura elegans and another life first for me, the Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libellula quadrimaculata both showed up the same day. Blue-tailed damselflies are variable in colour and also change colour as they mature so can vary a lot in apperance, in particular there are so-called rufescens (pinkish) violacea (violet) and infuscans (green) female forms.

The vivid female violacea form of the Blue-tailed damselfly

Blue-tailed damselfly on Yarrow flowerhead, July 2015

Female Blue-tailed damselfly, form rufescens, July 2016

With its fast, agile flight and distinctive wing markings, the Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libellula quadrimaculata, was a  exciting addition to my wildlife pond's dragonfly tally. Much like the Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, the males are highly territorial and persistently patrol their patch and return to the same perches to challenge rivals and the two males often held sparring matches over my pond. 

Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly, Libella quadrimaculata, July 2016

Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly showing its distinctive markings, 2018

2017 only saw one new arrival, bringing our total to 8 different species. Our pond was now 4 years old and becoming pretty mature as a micro-habitat. The Ruddy Darter dragonfly, Sympetrum sanguineum, was our new addition. In the past this dragonfly was a major source of identification confusion for me due to its similarities with the Common Darter and it was satisfying to finally get a good view of the jet black legs that distinguish it most readily.

Last but by no means least in my line up is my recent 2018 sighting of the Large Red damselflyPyrrhosoma nymphula. It made its debut on the Nar Cottage wildlife pond stage on 28th May. Frequently one of the earliest damselflies to be seen, I'd often spotted it in late May on visits to Stoke Ferry and Hoe Rough . With its distinctive colour it was most definitely a newbie in our garden.

Ruddy Darter, Sympetrum sanguineum, on a pondside perch

My latest damselfly species sighting the Large Red damselfly, Pyrrhosoma nymphula

Its wonderful to still be seing new species colonise this micro-habitat we created even after 5 years and though my pond's evolution is perhaps slowing and stabilising now I continue to hope for more sightings. Who knows, someday this line up may yet turn into a top-ten list!

 

 

Seeing Red

I spent a gorgeous bank holiday weekend pottering around our wildlife pond, watching the Azure damselflies wafting about in pairs and aerial dragonfly wars between the powder blue Broad-bodied Chaser and custard yellow Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies to rival any aeroplane dogfight as each fiercely competed for territory.

Suddenly among all the vivid blue Azures I quite literally saw red, that is, a pair of red mating damselflies! It was another first for Nar Cottage pond as they proved to be Britain's Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). Flying earlier than its cousin the Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum), it can also be distinguished by its black legs and strongly striped antehumeral markings.

This photo marks the ninth species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselfles) recorded in our wildlife pond (more on that here) and not bad for a pond thats only five seasons old...

Two Blues and No Greens

After a second fruitless jaunt hoping to photograph some rather shy Green Hairstreaks, which seem to be having a good season this year, my sunny late May Sunday ended up being an impromptu tale of two Blues in my own back garden instead.

Male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly basking

As I was resting on my patio I spotted our first blue Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly posing ostentatiously by the side of our (now very low) wildlife pond, barely a day after our first Four-spotted chaser appeared. Both were trying to hold territory and I was entertained by some impressive aerial battles.

A subsequent gentle lap of our garden yielded a female Holly Blue Butterfly busily ovipositing on the native shrubs in our wildlife hedgerow that borders our garden and now in its 5th year is nice and dense. Our wildlife garden just keeps on giving year after year. 

A female Holly Blue butterfly busily ovipositon amongst native hedging

Smoothly Enters the Newt

A surprising number of tadpoles survived this year's late snow and frosts to hatch out, proving that nature has long coped with such seasonal extremes. Once hatched, a tadpole's lot does not get easier by any means, because along with the warmth, their nemesis the Common newts have returned.

Common newts, also known as Smooth newts, predate heavily on tadpoles and frogspawn in springtime, and male Common newts can be spotted due to their vivid orange and black spotted underbelly which is a temporary colouring worn during the mating season.

Male Common or Smooth newt in orange mating colours

Common newt hunting among newly hatched tadpoles

Smile, Its Spring... For A day!

Hopefully the treacherous weather will not be too damaging to this year's frogspawn. Hard to believe just three days ago my wildlife pond was an amorous hotspot with over half a dozen frogs busy making frogspawn. Today the pond is frozen over again and the ground has at least 2 or 3 inches of snow being swept around by the "mini Beast".

Frog nestled in pondweed in a wildlife pond

Three in a bed.... male frogs swarming aorund a female.

Frog amongst fresh frogspawn

 Smile! Its spring

Smile! Its spring

A Celebration Of Diversity

In the week that saw the Pink Pride parade in London that celebrated 50 years of progress towards greater acceptance of human diversity, I was celebrating different kind of diversity success on a much smaller scale in my back garden -  the biodiversity success of wildflower varieties in my wildlife flower meadow surrounding our pond.

In its fourth flowering season, the Nar Cottage wildflower meadow project has finally come into its own and is becoming a mature, established bio-diverse habitat. At last pinks, purples and mauves of Tufted Vetch and Knapweeds intermingle generously among large clusters of yellow Bird's-foot trefoil, and have started to balance out the till now prevalent whites of Ox-eye daisies and Yarrow which had dominated the last two seasons flowering. A real "purple streak" of wildflower diversity you could say.

The meadow is noticeably lower than the past two seasons and the dry spring and early June heatwave may have contributed to the increase in biodiversity as different plants definitely either struggled or thrived in contrast to the previous two colder and wetter seasons. In addition, Yellow rattle has established itself very well this year and should continue to weaken the competitive grasses in future years.

Every year the flower mix in the meadow evolves and changes to puts on a unique display of meadow flora and fauna. It will soon be hay cutting time, but already I cant wait to see what next year's meadow will be like.

 

Nar Cottage wildlife garden before landscaping work began, early November 2013

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow in late June 2017 with Knapweed and Vetch mxing with Ox-eye daisies

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow in November 2013 - A landscaped area of bare earth and newly filled pond

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow by July 2017 - A diverse mix of pink purple Knapweeds, Vetches plus Trefoils, Sorrel and Daisies

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow in June 2015 - A mass of white Ox-eye daisies but few other flowers - a relatively undiverse habitat

Nar Cottage Wildlife Meadow June 1st 2018 just coming into flower, relatively few Ox-eye daisies are left

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow with cornfield annuals - July 2014

Nar Cottage wildflower Meadow in its early stages of growth - June 2015

Nar Cottage wildflower meadow in its 4th season - July 2017

Rhapsody in Blue

Buff-tailed bumble bee foraging among Viper's-bugloss flowers

One of the deep joys of wildlife gardening is when an idea comes together and a wildflower you've planted really takes off... and brings even more nature into your garden. That is exactly what happened this year with an experimental planting of a local native wildflower, Viper's-bugloss or Echium vulgare. 

Viper's-bugloss growing wild on Kelling Heath in Norfolk

A member of the Borage plant family Boraginaceae, Viper's-bugloss is renowned for having a high wildlife value due to its flower's rapid nectar refill rate. This makes it a magnet for numerous species of bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects, which will revisit it at regular intervals throughout the day. It is also a caterpillar host plant for the glamorous Painted Lady butterfly and Golden Twin-spot moth. 

A tough, bristly and flamboyant biennial, Viper's-bugloss is commonly found in dry chalky grassland and heaths and along coastal cliffs and sand dunes. I first saw this striking plant growing in the wild locally in 2015. It was at Kelling Heath, a lowland heath reserve not far from the North Norfolk coast, and I'd been on a foray to see the diminutive Silver-studded blue butterflies resident on the nature reserve.

I was returning to the car park after a successful mission when I spotted it and recognised the tall flower spike heavy with lilac blue flowers at first glance, even though I'd never seen one before. The bell-shaped open-rimmed flowers had vivid pink trailing stamens, and was besieged by a host of argumentative bees, butterflies and other insects all competing for the rich nectar source.

Like most native wildflowers, Viper's-bugloss is embedded in traditional herblore, with around a dozen common names in existence, many of which, like Adderwort, Snake flower or Viper's herb, contain serpentine references.

The precise origins of its common name are unclear, possibly relating to the snake's-head form of the seed pods mentioned by 17th Century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper,After the flowers are fallen, the seeds growing to be ripe, are blackish, cornered and pointed somewhat like the head of a viper.” Other theories include a comparison of the mottled leaves to snakeskin, or perhaps an allusion to the bite-like irritation caused by contact with the plants sharp bristles or its poisonous characteristics when ingested. 

Bumble bee nectaring on Viper's-bugloss flowers

Perhaps because of these serpentine associations,  Viper's-bugloss was traditionally used in herblore as an anti-venom for snake bites.The first documented herballist recommendation dates as far back as the first century AD and was made by a Greek Physician called Pedanius Dioscorides in a work called De Materia Medica.  Even the species name Echium is derived from "Echis", the Greek for "Viper".

However the term "Bugloss" used in many of our English common names is actually a reference to the ox-tongue shape and texture of its leaves and originates from the Greek word "bou" (a cow or ox) and the Latin "glosso" (tongue).

Meanwhile I had long been pondering a horticultural problem in my wildlife garden at home. I was keen to add more wildlife friendly flowers closer to the house and enrich diversity as the garden was starting to mature, but was stumped with a problem area where next to nothing would grow.

Bee flying towards Viper's-bugloss flower spikes

Despite our landscaper's best endeavours, not all of the poorest soil had ended up in the right place, our designated wildlfower meadow area. Some of it had ended up adjoining the bungalow and patio edge right at the top of the rear garden. Here the south facing slope was arid , in full sun all day long and only the relentless couch grass was flourishing.

So I turned to natives I'd seen locally thriving in sandy arid conditions for a solution and bought a small Echium Vulgare plug from Glandford Wildflower Centre just outside Holt. I planted it alongside Common Century, Teasel, Red Valerian and Common Rock Rose, next to a humongous self-sown Common Mallow, which had given me the inspiration, in order to create a bee-friendly wildflower border of sorts. 

Very little happened last year and my husband was sceptical. But Viper's-bugloss is known for growing deep roots and this year - success! The Echium developed numerous flower spikes and is even out competing both the Common century and Red valerian.

This weekend the month has earned its title of "Flaming June". In the sweltering 33 degree heat,  I couldn't face venturing outside my garden gates. Towards the end of a long, sweltering afternoon, as the worst of the heat started to cool, I stood on our patio and enjoyed the constant humming of dozens of bumble bees as they methodically worked their way up each spike in turn, checking which flowers had refilled with nectar.

 

"With the buzzing of the bee,
And the glowing of the bugloss,
High Summer is here"
 
 

Names for Echium Vulgare  

Bluebottle
Blue devil
Blue thistle
Blueweed
Bugloss
Cat's tail
Ironweed
Patterson's curse (Australian)
Our Saviour's Flannel
Snake flower
Viper's-bugloss
Viper's grass
Viper's herb

Beautiful Bogbean

Tall Bogbean flower spikes are used by both adult dragonflies and emerging nymphs

With striking spears of downy-white, blush-tinged, feathery star-shaped flowers as exotic as those seen on any orchid or lily, it is ironic that this glamorous, wildlife-friendly, native wildflower superstart bears the rather unglamorous name of "Bogbean".

Surely the Marilyn Monroe of aquatic plants, this beautiful spring-flowering native marginal first acquired its unfortunate, less-than-beautiful name due to its watery habitat and foliage's passing resemblance to a broad bean or clover. 

Bogbean is highly valuable to wildlife, its striking pink-tinged flower spikes grow up to 30cm tall and can blossom from March right through into June or July. The frilly white flowers attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies to the pond edge. 

Bogbean's tendency to grow by creeping horizontally across the water surface also service to create shade and a rich micro-habitat for pond-dwelling insects. 

In particular, Bogbean's lobed trifoliate leaves form a kind of floating raft, which makes for an excellent egg laying,  perching and roosting site for adult damselflies and dragonflies, whose nymphs also use the protruding stems to climb out of the water when they are ready for metamorphosis. 

Bogbean is related to Gentians but in botany has its own unique plant family group.

The beautiful bogbean does have some less ugly alternative names though, Its latin name Menyanthes trifoliata refers to its triple leaved foliage and its spring flowering season. It is also known as Marsh Clover or Trefoil, Water Shamrock, Bog Myrtle and Buckbean. One of its alternative names, "Bog hop", alludes to bogbean's long history of herbal and medicinal use. Its leaves were traditionally used as a flavouring in beer making, while in medicinal herblore bogbean was said to be a cure for numerous ailments when drunk as a bitter tea. One of its German names, Scharbock, is derived from the Latin scorbutus, an ancient term for scurvy, which it was thought to cure.

In the wild, Bogbean is widespread in the marshes, fends and ponds across Northern England and Scotland, though sadly it is now less common in the South where it has suffered a marked decline due to wetland drainage.

 Bogbean flower

 

 

 

Autumn Colours and Changing Clocks

Autumn seems to get later and later each year, perhaps a sign of the times in these days of global warming. The leaves here in Norfolk are only just colouring up, so to capture the mood of autumn here is a shot from my garden instead. It's a wild carrot seed head photographed against a backdrop of autumn flowering pink sedum in my butterfly and bee flower garden in gorgeous soft golden light we had yesterday afternoon before the clock change.

A Late Small Tortoiseshell Summer

At last! Today, a gorgeously golden August bank holiday Monday, I was in Small Tortoiseshell heaven in my back garden with my Olympus 300m lens. With our wildflower meadow newly shorn, I could enjoy wonderful close up views of a late summer brood of Tortoisehell butterflies. They were a beautifully vivid, rich russet-orange colour as they flitted gracefully between the edge of our wildlife pond and our white buddleia, sweeping in to nectar on the pond side water mint. One butterfly cheekily nectared on a water mint flower so close to the water line that it had a narrow escape from becoming dinner with our rather noisy resident frog.

But I’m lucky to be enjoying this sight, because, despite this week's flurry of emergences, today the Butterfly Conservation Society issued a press release about their worrying decline. The Small Tortoisheshell’s population has plummeted by 73% since the 1970s.

Like many butterflies, habitat loss is an issue, but in addition the growing numbers of a parasitic fly, Sturmia bella may also be a contributory factor.

Due to their complex lifecycle, butterflies need caterpillar food plants for their larval stage, as well as nectar from flowers and fruit after they metamorphose into butterflies. Small Tortoiseshells, like several of the nymphalidae butterfly family, use nettles as their caterpillar host plant.

Gardens are increasingly playing a vital role as a habitat in our rapidly changing environment, so if you are a gardener, allowing a generous patch of nettles somewhere sunny at the edge of your garden really could help a struggling butterfly to recover, and when emerging Small Tortoiseshells grace your flower borders, make late summer days in your garden even more beautifully golden.

Low Mow Flower Lawns

Creative Low Maintenance Alternatives to Paving or Astroturfing your Lawn

With our our increasingly busy lives and long commutes, many people have come to dread the idea of spending precious family and leisure time mowing their lawns every week in high summer and look for alternative solutions. So much so that sales of block paving, pea shingle and even artificial plastic astro-turf are soaring. But what is the best option for our health and the environment? Is there a solution that is both low maintenance and eco-friendly as well as being aesthetically pleasing?

Concerns with block paving as an alternative to grass turf

Traditionally, those suffering lawn mower fatigue looked to block paving and over the years many a front urban garden vanished in favour of parking driveways, but in recent years flooding has become a real issue, particularly in urban areas due the sheer amount of lost drainage due to block paving in of gardens. According to a report by the Committee on Climate change, in the 5 years to 2013, around 55 million square meters of block paving was installed in England, 92% of which was non-permeable. As climate change started to take its toll and our British weather became more volatile the issue became increasingly important. So much so that in a bid to halt the trend, official planning permission is now required to install non permeable paving with no drainage.

Interestingly hard landscaping may not be just be bad for the eco-system and wildlife but also, it's been discovered in research studies, for our human psychological and physical well being. Numerous studies have found positive correlations between green spaces and our mental health and negative links with concrete jungle urban environments. So wildlife aside, installing hard landscaping may also not be the most healthy way to get the most out of our precious outdoor space for our own psychological wellbeing. The good news is that there are some beautiful, natural, wildlife-friendly alternatives out there, that are far more attractive than block or shingle hard landscape replacements and yet are vastly easier and less effort to maintain than a traditional turf lawn.

Issues with artificial lawns as an alternative to grass turf

Recently a new kid arrived on the lawn replacement block. Artifical turf. Superficially an attractive option. Cheaper, also maintenance free, permeable and, being green plastic kind of natural looking from a distance. Sales sky rocketed. Sometimes made of recycled rubber and recycling's good right? Well... no, not exactly. Plastic is never the good guy and buying and laying plastic imitation lawns in your garden can still create lots of environmental problems.

Experts say artificial lawns are a real threat to wildlife, and on closer inspection don't have eco-friendly credentials. They consume fossil fuels to manufacture and many are shipped long distance so have a large carbon footprint and of course, being essentially plastic, don't biodegrade and eventually pollute the environment. The issue of habitat loss for burrowing bees, worms and other insects that birds rely on for food is a major and growing problem in an increasingly intensively built urban environment. More worryingly some potential health concerns have been raised about the safety of some materials used, there have been claims of materials being used in them potentially causing cancer or other serious health risks (see “further reading” section below for links). So, on closer inspection the plastic turf alternative doesnt seem to tick the human health box either.

Low mow flower lawns as an alternative to grass turf

Paving and artifical grass aside, varity is the spice of life in the ecosystem and, while better than man made coverings, a standard turf or grass lawn is a monoculture habitat that offers relatively poor biodiversity. Aside from the odd snail or earthworm for blackbirds or crows to forage it has little ecological benefit to wildlife. 

Aesthetically,  aside from being green rather than synthetic, lawns are also pretty bland don't offer a great deal of visual stimulation for the human eye either. As awareness grows of flooding and ecosystem impact and potential health issues around artificial surfaces, people are starting to look into greener, healthier alternatives that avoid resorting to higher maintenance traditional turf lawns. At the same time wildlife gardening is increasing in popularity as we become more conservation minded.

With a little imagination a dull lawn could be transformed from a mowing and weeding nightmare into a low maintenance artistic and aromatic patchwork quilt of low growing wildflowers rich in biodiversity that will shelter and feed bees, insects and butterflies. And require far less summer mowing maintenance to boot. Many of the plants suggested are native or long naturalised so will cope with our long dry summer weather, or shade far better than garden centre grass mixes will do. And if you need to install a driveway there are many hexagon shaped green-driveway options to use with the low mow flower ideas below.

Low Mow Flowering Lawn Ideas

Selfheal and White Clover make an attractive, low maintenance wildlife friendly alternative to a traditional plain turf lawn

Probably the star performer for an alternative to turf lawn is white clover, perhaps with a sprinkling of purple-blue selfheal and speedwell dropped in, but there are a whole host of options including the lovely idea of fragrant and herbal flower lawns grown with chamomile, thyme or mint, an innovation first dreamed up by the Elizabethans.

Depending on what flower lawn mix you sow, you may still need just one or two mows on a high setting in spring, but from then on you can leave the sward completely alone through the main summer period, sit back and enjoy the flowers before mowing again once or twice in autumn.

Below is a list some of the best known low growing flower-lawn options to go for sorted by colours, but many other wild flowers will adapt to low growing and flowering height with an early mowing regime. You could even plant in some spring bulbs for extra colour.

Blue / White / Pink Flowers for Alternative Low Flowering Lawns

  • White clover (trifolium repens, native, flowers: white, Jun-Oct)- a star lawn alternative, tough and resilient and simply wonderful for garden bees. It is a caterpillar host plant for 14 moth species, in particular burnet, heath, mother shipton and silver y moths. It has a prolonged flowering season and the leaves of this legume stay green during the height of summer unlike most lawns. Note that its relative red clover grows much taller than the white.

  • Selfheal (prunella vulgaris, native, flowers: blue/purple Jun-Oct ) – a good companion to clower, this semi-evergreen herb with beautiful violet flower spikes can flower well into October. As its name suggest, the herb has a long history of medicinal use for healing wounds.

  • Germander Speedwell (veronica chamaedrys, native, flowers: blue Apr-Jun) A host plant for the heath fritillary butterfly, this variety of speedwell displays bright blue flowers in spring and its name references its historic status as a good luck charm for travellers, to speed them well on their way. Other creeping speedwell varieties include Common Field Speedwell (v. persica) , Grey Field Speedwell (v. polita) Green Field Speedwell (v . agrestis)

  • Ground Ivy (glechoma hederacea, native, flowers: lilac, Mar-Jun) nothing to do with its larger relative it looks a little like bugle and is low growing spring flower oft seen with primroses.

  • Bugle (ajuga reptans, native, flowers: purple Apr-Jun) a member of the mint/dead nettle family with purple flowers on little stalks in spring

  • Yarrow (achillea millefolium, flowers: white to pink, Jun-Oct) a pretty feathery leaved plant in the daisy family with erect flower spikes that flower low with mowing. Great for butterflies and plume moths.

  • Sweet Violet (viola odorata, native, flowers: lilac to deep purple, Mar-May) low growing spring flowers. Sweet violet spreads via rhizomes. Its relative common dog violet flowers a little later.

Yellow / Orange / Red Flowers for Alternative Low Flowering Lawns

Buttercups and speedwell can be low growing alternatives to a turf lawn

  • Bird’s foot trefoil (lotus corniculatus, native, flowers: yellow to orange, May-Sep) – Not everyone’s cup of tea with its vivid yellow “bacon and egss” but this is an excellent moth and butterfly caterpillar host plants used by Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Dingy Skippers and Clouded Yellow butterflies.

  • Creeping Buttercup (ranunulus repens, native, flowers: yellow, May-Jul) one of Britains native buttercups. Leaves are comparatively large and it does have quite a vigorous creeping habit so be sure you want plenty of glossy yellow flowers before including it in a mix.

  • Daisy (bellis perennis, native, flowers: white-yellow, Apr-Oct) Every perfect flower lawn should have some. No British summer is complete without at least one daisy chain and a game of “she loves me, she loves me not”.

  • Scarlet Pimpernel (anagallis arvensis, native, flowers: red, May-Oct) Made famous by the French rebel, this is a delicate tiny little red flower that opens in the morning when the sun shines and will close up in less clement weather.

  • Dandelion (taraxacum officinale, native, flowers: yellow Apr-Oct), a marmite plant hated by many traditional gardeners for its habit of invading lawns, but a whole field full can be a sight to behold.

  • Cat’s Ear (hypochaeris radicata, native, flowers: yellow May-Oct), often confused with dandelions as it alsow grows as a rosette, but its more delicate and low growing with flowers on spikes and is very popular with meadow butterflies like skippers and meadow browns and gatekeepers.

Fragrant or Herbal Flowers for Alternative Low Level Lawns

  • Creeping Thyme (thymus serpyllum, naturalised, flowers:May-Aug ) – a fragrant creeping herb that originated in the mediterranean and was brought to Britain by the Romans.

  • Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, native, flowers: Jun-Aug) – another aromatic plant used for tea, this herb became the height of fashion in the Elizabethan era and it was the Elizabethans who first came up with the idea of planting it en masse as a feathery soft lawn fragrant underfoot. A non flowering cultivar is also available.

  • Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii, naturalised, flowers: purple Jul, Aug) – Introduced from Corsica, Sardinia a low growing mint family plant.

Green / Non Flowering Low Level Lawns For Shade

  • Moss (bryophyta)- overlooked and underrated, particularly good for shady areas, it is a gorgeous rich green and bouncy underfoot.

Traditional Wildflower Meadows

If you don’t need a low level lawn-like effect and the height of plants is no issue you could even consider a wildflower meadow patch. For the extra effort of an annual cut you could grow a traditional natural grass and wildflower meadow with endless choice of taller flowers. A summer wildflower meadow mix has a cutting regime timed as a hay cut in late summer. Or if you love to see birds in your garden you could consider a dense flower meadow mix for birds and bees. These are designed to be left overwinter for seeds and require a late winter cut around February after the birds have foraged the seedheads.

Abandon your both your lawn mower and the mortar!

So there are a whole host of options that can mean your mower is left to gather dust in the garage most of the year, leaving you free to enjoy your low flowering non turf lawn for its natural beauty and the wildlife species it brings into your garden. Not all lawn alternatives will tolerate heavy footfall, so a little thought research and tailoring is required to find the right option and perfect blend for your area.

But whatever you do –  throw that block paving brochure into the recycling and start growing an exciting low maintenance beautiful space for wildlife!

Red Campion and white Daisies surround the bird bath in the Old Rose Garden at Nar Cottage

Further Reading

Astroturf health and environmental concerns

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/are-artificial-sports-pitches-causing-cancer/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/04/growth-in-artificial-lawns-poses-threat-to-british-wildlife-conservationists-warn

Emorsgate Seeds offer a ready made flowering lawn mix (EL1) and have written a short article

http://wildseed.co.uk/articles/2012/06/06/flowering-lawns-give-your-mower-a-holiday

Reading University research shows what can be done creatively

http://www.grassfreelawns.co.uk/

The Committe on Climate Change’s 2014 Paving Survey Report

https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/7-ASC-paving-survey-report_for-publication.pdf

Research into the effect of green spaces on mental health

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25682368

Wildlife Meadow Matting for Birds and Bees

http://www.meadowmat.com/meadowmat/meadowmat-birds-bees.html

A Spotty New Arrival

The Nar Cottage wildlife garden is starting to become quite mature now, so we were really excited today to spot a new species to the Garden...and a first sighting for me to boot!

Our first ever four-spotted chaser dragonfly (Libellula Quadrimaculata) was perched up by our our wildlife pond, looking glamourous as he posed.

We were even more delighted when he suddenly started zooming round and hooked up with a mate who then started ovipositing, so hopefully in a few years time we may see some more!

Raising a Yellow Flag

Yellow Flag Iris, Iris Pseudocorus, is one of surprisingly few native pond Irises. Yellow Flag makes its home in damp clay and loamy soils of wetlands and marshes. It thrives in the Fenland habitat of the Norfolk Broads and is widespread across the county. 

Also known as "Daggers" Yellow Flag Iris is a vibrant, beautiful native example of the Iris wildflower family. Sadly this species tends to gets overlooked by mainstream garden centres in favour of more popular blue-coloured Irises, which are actually Asian in origin and not native to the UK.  

With a little care Yellow Flag Iris can be a wonderful addition to most wildlife garden ponds.  In particularly favourable conditions the Yellow Flag Iris will thrive and can become a little over vigorous, so growing it in containers is a good idea to avoid it taking off too dramatically, especially if you have a smaller ponds or bog gardens.

Fortunately my pond margin has plenty of room and mixed companion planting is providing competition from other marginal plants such as Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Water mint, Reedmace (Typha), true Bulrush (Scirpus Lacustris) to name but a few. So far this approach seems to have kept the pond margin mix nicely balanced.

Here there be Dragons

Its been a big week for Nar Cottage's wildlife garden as we discovered that our first "home grown" dragonfly had completed its three year lifecycle. This photo is of an emperor dragonfly nymph "exuvia", the exoskeletal shell left behind after the nymph transforms into a dragonfly and emerges as a winged adult. The Emperor's emergence happens overnight so sadly we didn't see it happening.

Emperor dragonfly Exuvia

Emperors are know as early pioneers of new ponds and were one of the very first visitors to our brand new, bare-earthed pond back in 2013. Three years on and our pond looks very different, teeming with aquatic life and surrounded by lush native plants and wildflowers creeping to cover much of its surface.

The Emperor dragonflies never returned after that first season, but we continued to see lots of Broad-bodied Chasers, Southern Hawkers as well as damselflies about.  Emperors will predate upon other chaser dragonflies, so I hope our population of those survives its emergence!

First Frogspawn

This humble image was taken today after a week of cold days and grey leaden skies. For me first frogspawn truly symbolises the onset of spring. What was particularly joyous this year was to find it in my own garden despite my wildlife pond being first filled little over a year ago! While the frogs had left the scene there were plenty of newts hanging around to enjoy a spring feast.

Frog spawn