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Diary: April 2003

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Calendar and diary for April 2003. A month of two halves: the first carrying on where March left off, i.e. warm and sunny, whilst the second half was wetter and a bit colder.

Diary and calendar

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Watch the arrival of summerApril 2003 on the gardener's calendar...

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The pace of change from winter to summer really ratchets up this month. Summer visiting birds like swallows and willow warblers will arrive back from their winter quarters as far away as Africa. Hibernating insects like peacocks and small tortoiseshells will start to appear in your garden (if you are lucky) and of course, countless plants start to come into leaf and flower.

Just sitting back and witnessing all this unfold is one of the great joys of gardening in a temperate climate like ours. But if you are so inclined, you can put your observations to even greater use...
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Round one to the plastic heron!Wednesday 30th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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Yesterday evening I saw a heron flying over the garden and tonight the whole family saw it at close quarters when it landed close to the pond. It was only 7.45 p.m. and still very light outside. The bird quickly spotted our resident plastic heron and eyed it very suspiciously: taking a few paces towards it. The lack of a response seems to unnerved it and it flew away.

I put three new small goldfish into the pond on Saturday and one of them happily, and very visibly, spends quite a lot of time near the surface (feeding on daphnia I think). The heron may well have been tempted down after spying it. Sure enough, when I went to the pond after the bird had left, the fish was indeed very visible.


More heron deterrentsSunday 27th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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A friend brought me some ingenious heron deterrents as a birthday present. She acquired two blue-glazed ceramic ornaments which float on the pond surface - they are shaped a bit like round loaves of bread.
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Evidence of caddis flies and damselfliesSunday 27th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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I found what can only be a caddis fly larvae case floating on the surface of the pond today. It was made of small stones and the seeds of yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus). Due to the fact that it was floating, I imagine that it was empty - but I'm not sure. It definitely must have come from the old pond (when we transferred most of the water and a great deal of the mud) since I haven't yet had any flowering yellow flag near the new pond. Still I had no idea that I had caddis flies in the old pond.

I was delighted to see a good number of damselfly larvae in the new pond today. They seem most numerous on the soil in the emergent plant containers in the shallow end of the pond. I saw a number of damselflies and dragonflies around the pond at the end of last summer (when these containers were already in place) and I believe that these insects may have come from eggs laid then.


Ivy and cuckoo flower propagationSunday 27th April 2003 out and about...

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Following the advice from one of the nursery staff at the National Wildflower Centre, today I have attempted to propagate some cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratense) by potting up some leaf cuttings. This flower grows abundantly in the meadows around here and it was easy for me to obtain some leaves without damaging the plants. I was looking for the largest, most succulent, basal leaves. I've potted up a number with a little rooting hormone to help them on their way.

At the same time I also took a number of softwood cuttings from a local Ivy (Hedera helix) and treated them in the same way. I hope to plant these out in various positions in the garden if they are successful.


National Wildflower CentreFriday 25th April 2003 out and about...

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I paid a very brief visit to the National Wildflower Centre at Court Hey Park, Knowsley, Liverpool today. I didn't have time to look around the grounds and facilities, but I bought a number of nursery-grown plants from the shop. The National Wildflower Centre is an impressive, modern 4million complex founded by Landlife; promoters of wildflower habitat regeneration. I was left whishing that I had more time to explore the centre fully - I will definitely be going back there later in the year.

I bought some cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratense), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). I planted the latter two at the base of the new hedge which surrounds the pond and the cuckoo flowers near the pond itself. I also bought some teasle (Dipsacus pillosus) which I planted at the back of the new butterfly-border adjacent to the pond.


Heron takes up residenceThursday 24th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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It's incredible how statuesque herons look. The one which has taken up residence by the new pond stands absolutely motionless - but that's not really surprising since it's made of plastic.
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Pond colonisation continues apaceWednesday 17th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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This morning I found two new arrivals in the pond. Firstly I noticed, for the first time, hundreds of tiny water fleas (perhaps Daphnia) - a very useful addition to any pond, serving as food for many other animals. Also I saw a couple of water snails - one small (about 4mm long) and one large (about 20mm long): their general shape showed characterstics of the great pond snail (Lymnaea stagnalis). Quite how a snail that large arrived unnoticed I'm not so sure - it might have been transferred with vegetation from the old pond, though I've never noticed snails in there.

A closer inspection of the recently arrived pond skaters (Gerris lacustris) showed them all to be adults with fully developed wings, so they could have arrived under their own steam.


More new arrivalsWednesday 16th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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One Swallow doth not a summer make...but I could be forgiven for thinking so this morning. I was sitting on the garden bench by the pond enjoying a few quiet minutes before work on the warmest day of the year so far (and the warmest April day for 50 years apparently) and I heard the familiar warbling chatter above my head. I looked up to see my first swallow (Hirundo rustica) this year.

And this evening in the garden I caught sight of my first bat this year. No idea what species of course - they're so hard to tell apart, though on the balance of probabilities, I suppose it was probably a Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus).


First orange tipTuesday 15th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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It was a beautifully warm day today - it's probably the first morning when it didn't feel at all chilly in the garden. The orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) which I encountered there, my first of the year, obviously appreciated the early warmth too. I was left wishing that I had some garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) or ladies smock (Cardamine pratensis), two of the larval food plants of this species, to tempt it to hang around for a bit. Hopefully I'll get both of these species planted this year.

Tadpoles growing rapidlyTuesday 15th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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It always amazes me how fast tadpoles grow: they seem to do it in front of your eyes. Certainly, it's no exaggeration to say that you can see the difference from one day to the next. Probably the warm weather we have been having has accelerated their growth, but their scientific name, Rana temporaria, also gives us a clue as to why they have evolved to develop so quickly: frogs, in their natural environment, often spawn in temporary ponds, sometimes hardly more than puddles, and they must develop and mature quickly enough to leave them before they dry out.

Pond skaters arriveTuesday 15th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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This evening, from nowhere, there were suddenly around half a dozen pond skaters (Gerris lacustris) moving energetically over the surface of the pond. I must try to get a closer look to see if they are mature adults (with fully developed wings) or one of the earlier nymphal stages.

Hedge maintenanceSunday 13th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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Last winter I planted a deciduous hedge around part of the pond area; the idea being that I will be able to completely close access to the pond if required, e.g. when there is a possibility of small children gaining access when unattended.

I chose to use native species; mostly hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), but with some blackthorn (Prunus spinosa, field maple (Acer campestre) and crab apple (Malus sylvestris). Almost all of the 50 or so plants, which I bought by mail order as bare-rooted whips, seemed to have survived the transplanting. However, the dry spring weather has concerned me a bit, so today I gave them a good watering and a mulch of my best garden compost. Before I applied the mulch I also gave each plant a good handful of dried chicken manure.


Planting new nectar-rich bed near pondSunday 12th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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I have a small area near the new pond (probably less than 2 square metres) which I want to plant with nectar rich plants. Last weekend I planted a couple of globe thistles (echinops) and today I added a couple of fennels (foeniculum vulgare), one of which was of the bronze (pupureum) variety. I also transplanted a couple of oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and a lupin (Lupinus) from elsewhere in the garden. At the front of the bed, adjacent to the pond, I sowed californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and some nasturtiums (Tropaeolum). I've left space at the back for some teasels (Dipsacus fullonum) which I haven't sourced yet.

Container plantsSunday 6th April 2003 in the garden diary...

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Yesterday I bought a fairly large black galvanised metal container from the garden centre: I had a very special purpose in mind for it. Today I half filled it with the choicest compost from the bottom of my heap, topping it up with John Innes No 2. Several liberal handfuls of dried chicken-manure ensured that conditions would be perfect - nothing but the best for the fellows I had in mind for this hearty meal. Then I went around the garden in search for suitable tenants. A few minutes and several handfuls of dandelion root later, I was ready to do the planting!
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Nest-boxes provoke interestWednesday 2nd April 2003 in the garden diary...

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Last year I put up a couple of home-made boxes on a wall close to our kitchen window. I made the holes large enough for house sparrows (32mm diameter), hoping to tempt them into starting a small colony. So far there have been no signs of interest from the sparrows (there's no accounting for taste), but I've seen blue tits investigating on a couple of occasions. I've also seen blue tits investigating a plastic box at the front of the house. This box was already in situ when we moved in about five years ago and has been used successfully a couple of times.

Meanwhile just outside the window of the office where I work, a male house sparrow has started a little nest building on a very precarious ledge under a steel spiral fire-escape staircase. He should come round here - much better accommodation going cheep! (Groan!)


When is a frogspawn not a frogspawn?Wednesday 2nd April 2003 in the garden diary...

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When its a tadpole of course. Over the last couple of days the earliest of my pond's frogspawn has started to look much less like spawn and more like tiny tadpoles. Today, on one batch of spawn there were several groups of the tiny inactive tadpoles clustered quite close together - closer than they could get unless they were actually free of the gelatinous remains of their spawn. So I now consider that I have tadpoles in the new pond! I will duly record this at the UK Phenology Network's website.


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