Six on Saturday: 25.7.20-Anatomy of a photo

This week I have been aiming for a few decent photos in the garden. There are a few photo competition deadlines coming up including the Countryfile calendar competition. Going off previous years where the ‘wildlife’ has been faked in home-built studios I probably don’t stand much of a chance. But the theme this year is ‘bright and beautiful’ and I have an idea of a photo I wanted. The rules have been changed a bit for this year in that people can enter wildlife photos taken closer to home as we’ve been on lockdown rather than the countryside. So I wanted to try and get a photo of the wildlife in my garden that has brought me comfort during lockdown.

1. The aim

I have been wanting to get a decent photo of the bees on this allium. The allium was randomly placed in Alice’s fairy garden. It is growing out on in its own but the bees are loving it. It frequently has two or three bees on it.

Being out on its own it has the advantage of standing out dramatically on photos as I can angle photos to either have the bright green of the grass of the bright pink of the Hydrangea macrophylla. I knew the combination of a bee, the allium and a striking background could make for a stunning photo.

2. Initial attempts

My initial attempts were taken with my telephoto lens (Nikon-300mm) as the bees were a bit skittish when I got too close and they weren’t settling for long. I can focus this lens quickly for the quick movements of the bees and take shots from a little distance. The results were ok but using such a long lens limited my freedom to compose the shot with the background as I can’t gain the height to get the background how I wanted it. It also lacks the detail I felt I could get on the bees.

3. Lens change

I decided I’d try with the macro lens to get a higher level of detail on the bee.

It’s been a bit of a grey week so the photos are a bit muted. But, you can see the level of detail on the bee went up from the previous photo. However, it lacks the depth of field to have much of the allium in focus.

4. Flash

I’ve been hoping for brighter days, but as they haven’t happened I got the flash out. I don’t often bother with it as I mainly use my previously mentioned telephoto lens for taking pictures of the birds. The flash doesn’t make much difference at those distances. But for this close up work it stops me or the camera shading out the subject. It does add quite a bit of weight to the setup.

The best result with the flash.

5. Diffuser

The flash helps give the extra light to really show off the hairs of the bee but it places all the light in a focussed spot. So I had quite a few photos with the light bouncing back at me or spread unevenly. So I added the diffuser to the lens. This covers the flash and allows some light through but more evenly.

This got me some much better photos. With a little bit of digital editing to increase the colours a little bit more so they reflected the colours the bee and plant really are. I don’t generally edit my photos much after except cropping as I mainly just take photos to illustrate the blog but I was aiming for a particular result here. I was close to results I was happy with.

But they both had elements that were wrong. On this one, the allium is still out of focus. The bee’s positioning meant all of the bee was pretty much in focus though not the most exciting composition. But the bees aren’t that accommodating at poising.

On this one, the position was more dynamic but key elements around the face were out of focus.

6. Tripod

Over the week I’d seen that in the evening the bees become more sluggish and they stay on the allium for longer. I thought I’d try for a few more shots using the tripod to make up for my shakey hands. The camera weighs a lot by the time you add the lens and focussing with the macro is precise. So the tripod allows for less camera shake allowing for things like a slower shutter speed without the photo becoming blurry. With the tripod and flash, I was able to manage a photo with both the bee and allium in focus and the hydrangea background I was hoping for.

I’m unlikely to win as like I already said many of the winners have been staged photos within studios or certainly look that way. Then of the actual natural shots, there have been some far more stunning and technically better photos. Photos of mammals almost all win the public vote. People seem to be able to relate more and go for that ‘cute’ factor. But, I have enjoyed the process of trying for a better photo. If I do get a day with better natural light I’ll try for some more photos. I’ve probably got another few days before the allium goes over. But Amy is complaining that I am on infringing on her photo specialty of macro, so back to birds for me. Thank you if you’ve read this far and tolerated me writing a different six on Saturday again. If you fancy seeing more garden pics or taking part check the participant guide.

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Six on Saturday: 18.7.20-Bees needs

This week is Bees Needs Week, organised by Bumblebee conservation. There are 5 simple guidelines to help.

  1. Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees.
  2. Let your garden grow wild.
  3. Cut your grass less often.
  4. Don’t disturb insect nest and hibernation spots.
  5. Think carefully about whether to use pesticides.

So, for this weeks six, I am looking at six bee favourites in the garden right now.

1. Hosta flowers

While not a flower people necessarily think of as a pollinator favourite the hostas have been constantly buzzing with bee activity. Great for adding that extra pollen source in the shade.

2. Passionflowers

The passionflowers are about as far from a native species as you can get in the UK. But the exotic blooms are loved by the bees.

3. Borage

Borage is probably one of the best flowers for bees currently. The nectaries supposedly refill in about a minute meaning they can be visited again and again. If you wanted a bee magnet for a limited space this would be it. I have both the blue and the white varieties growing and they are equally loved.

4. Hollyhocks

The hollyhocks are coming into flower. The leaves are covered in rust but they are blooming well. The hollyhocks are wonderful for the bees. They enter the large open flower and come out covered in pollen.

5. Single dahlias

While many of the double dahlias may look more spectacular I prefer the singles for the variety of pollinators that enjoy them. Last year these were enjoyed by bees, hoverflies and butterflies throughout the late summer. Here is the first one to open this year being enjoyed by a hoverfly.

And with a bee coming into land.

6. Marigolds

My mass of marigolds has seen many visitors with both honey and bumble bees coming to enjoy.

I am pleased with how many bees are coming in right now. The bumblebees are the most frequent but we are seeing some honey bees and a variety of solitary bees. It is good to know our efforts to provide for them are showing good results.

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Six on Saturday: 6.6.20-Roses and alliums

Well, this week has seen us busy with 30 days wild. We have spent a lot of time in the garden but not so much on gardening except the grow your own. But at the moment it’s nice just to enjoy the mass of flowers coming through. We have had a few good bursts of rain the last few days which is doing the garden a world of good. The water butts should be filling up and the veg patch is moving on from the combination of sun and rain.

1. Rose Paul’s Scarlet Climber

I planted two of these on opposite fences and they are now in their 3rd Summer. The aim was to train them out for the horizontal growth to encourage flowering. I think training is going fairly well. Plenty of flowers all along both with plenty more on the way. A little more training to get another layer along the top of the fence but we have a good number of flowers this year.

On the opposite fence, I’d planned for the combination of the white allium nigrums contrasting with the roses and so far so good.

It’s full of blooms with many more on the way.

2. Allium Nigrum

Here are the Allium nigrums in more detail. I grew a few last year and I liked them so much I’ve added more. They are a nice tall variety growing out of the mass of geraniums. The white is standing out well amongst the mass of greenery. I think I could go for even more of these next year.

3. Chives

The little patch of chives near the driftwood has been bringing in lots of bees. While I can harvest them as a herb and for an edible flower I don’t like to deprive the bees so they end up staying on. I might divide them this year as it’s getting to a good size patch now.

4. New lawnmower and strimmer

I won a new lawnmower courtesy of a Skinny Jeans Gardener competition, or more accurately Alice won a new lawnmower. She was meant to win a toy lawnmower but Flymo sent an actual one and a strimmer. She isn’t too bothered for it so I’m putting it to use. I already had a Flymo but as this one is a bit newer I thought I’d keep this one and I’ve given my old one away. It’s a little smaller than my old one but that makes it easier going over our uneven lawn. I’ve got it set to the highest level currently as that helps with the periods of drought, though we have had the rain this week I doubt will last.

And a strimmer for the lawn edging. I tend to cut parts of the border neat with the brick edging while a few areas I leave longer for the wildlife. It made short work of the edging nice and quick and useful for going around the raised veg bed.

Much neater.

5. Ox-eye daisies

The ox-eye daisies were one of the first flowers I grew from seed on the garden. They now self-seed all over the place. I let them flower, then either cut them back or pull them out. More will replace them. They are named again and again as one of the best for pollinators and always attract a wide range of insects with their easily accessible open flowers.

6. Marigold

The first of the marigolds have opened. A bit ahead of the rest. These self-seed around but I also gave Alice a lot of packs of seed this year that could be sown direct. She has been scattering these around and I look to be getting an abundance of marigolds this year.

The garden is looking great right now but I need to get on with the staking that as usual, I’ve been tardy over. All the wet weather with bursts of sun will have brought the weeds on so I need to try and give the garden a bit more attention. I’ve just completed another RHS assignment which frees up a bit of time. Enjoy your weekends. We’ve got a bit more 30 days fun planned.

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Six on Saturday: 4.4.20 spring is here

Well, it feels like we are truly entering spring. The clocks have changed. The bees and butterflies are emerging in greater numbers. Writing these posts changes from searching for six things to having to decide which six to feature. The garden is rapidly filling with an abundance of flowers. My post earlier in the week discussing the closure of garden centres has had a lot of attention and I appreciate the kind words I’ve received. I’ve been very busy in the garden this week, potting on and sowing more seed. I’m wondering how I managed working a full-time job and tending the garden! Possibly just that I’ve sown more knowing we’d be on lockdown. So let’s get going with this weeks six.

1. Tulip ‘tres chic’

The first tulip of the year is ‘tres chic’. We were bought a pack of these for our wedding and I bought another pack last autumn to give us another reminder. It’s a nice elegant long flower. It’s a bit lonely currently but I’m sure the others will catch up soon.

2. Lathyrus odoratus ‘sweet peas’

I have risked putting a few sweet peas in the soil. Still plenty in the mini-greenhouse as back up. These were mostly ‘air wardens’. So, they should mostly be red, Alice’s choice, but I did sow a few mixed. However, I haven’t kept them apart so we’ll see when they flower what we’ve got. I didn’t grow any last year and felt the loss every time I saw other peoples.

3. Sunflower challenge

I am taking part in a sunflower growing competition on Twitter. My previous sunflower efforts have been poor as we’ve usually gone away and come back to the dried out. However, this year that seems unlikely. With the motivation of competition, these will be reaching the top of the fence in no time. We have a pack of valentines, a flowerhead my parents saved from their own last year and a small pack of short ones purely for fun.

Alice helped sow, though there may be a few modules with many and some with none. My parent’s seed has gone in the tray and the Valentines in individual pots.

Then a few were spare for the birds.

4. Chionodoxa

I forget about these little bulbs each year then they come up as a pleasant little surprise. They are gradually spreading out. Only the white is out so far. The blue only has the one in flower.

5. Hollyhocks

I’ve found a lot of self-seeded hollyhocks the last week. I’ve dug them out and shifted them to the back of the border. I had the two putting on a good show last year late into the year. It’d be nice to have a few more towering along the back of the border. They suffer from rust but so far the two have still flowered well each year.

6. Bees

The bees are now coming out more regularly and in bigger numbers. The primulas and forget-me-nots are currently my most popular plants. Could do with some pulmonaria or some more spring-flowering shrubs to bring them in this time of year. But I was happy to capture this photo. The forget-me-not photos often lack detail and the colour ends up washed out but I think this one was pretty much spot on.

I hope you are all staying safe and finding ways to keep your sanity. I’m quite comfortable in my own company and Alice seems happy with all the quality time with parents. She’s helping with lots of garden jobs and enjoying lots of crafting inside. We are fortunate that she has a good attention time. Some days have been spent sat colouring and drawing for a good few hours. But we’re not struggling for things to do like many others. Hope you’re all keeping safe during these strange times.

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The beauty of life on one tree

Today I came across the news story of spikes being placed on a tree in Oxford. I figured straight away that this was probably done to stop bird poo on cars and after watching it saw I was right. This follows on from the story of Norfolk cliffs and hedges being covered in nets. While the bird poo is a pain, my car gets covered in seagull poo, it seems bizarre to cover the trees natural beauty and prevent wildlife using its natural resource.

Walking through the park today I stopped to admire the life on one tree. The weather was warm today but this tree was literally humming with activity. Blackbirds and sparrow were flying in and out the up story and a few butterflies were hovering around but too high up for photos.

The bees and hoverflies were swarming all over. I couldn’t track the numbers out today.

The ladybirds were out in force.

The understory providing space for more plants to grow.

The shade providing flowers with the conditions they need.

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy this beauty? The amount of life supported on one tree is amazing. Why would we think we can improve on nature? I’ll leave you with a quote from someone smarter than me.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

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Six on a Saturday-21.7.18

As a teacher I have now broken off for the Summer holiday. A chance to get out and enjoy the garden and get it back into order.

1. Cineraria

The cineraria is now in flower. I mainly grow this for the contrast of the silver foliage. It’s an evergreen so gives interest through the year. When it flowers it tends to spread out pretty untidily over the lawn, but the insects seem to like the small flowers.

2. Hollyhocks

The hollyhocks have finally flowered. The hot dry weather seems to have been perfect for them. The first to flower are a patch that self seeded from last years. These are the more traditional hollyhocks, but have some hollyhock carnival varieties still to flower.

3. Ophiopogon-black mondo

I have a few patches of black mondo growing in pots. It is starting to spread and hopefully can be divided at some point. While often referred to as black grass it isn’t actually a grass. Currently it is in flower with its small delicate white flowers stretching out from the leaves.

4. Verbena

I grow verbena bonariensis from seed this year and planted out a few weeks back. Last year this was still flowering in many gardens late on in Summer when a lot of other flowers were fading. The first flowers are opening. The dense spikes are ideal for butterflies. I’ve already seen the small whites coming onto these.

5. Borage

Down near the bench I allow a patch of borage to seed. Its star shaped flowers are loved by bees. It can become an untidy miss, but it keeps flowering for a good period and the bees love it. The flowers are edible and can be used as decoration on cakes or salads.

6. Succulent

For one of my end of year presents at work I got a succulent. Possibly some variety of aloe, but not really my area of expertise. I’ve brought it home for the holiday, then take it back in. I’ve been trying to add some more plants to the classroom for the kids to look after. I’ve also selected a number for the ability to improve air quality as my classroom can feel a bit stuffy. Then the positive effects of having greenery are well known.

So that’s my six for this week. The garden is full of life with the insects spoiled for choice. Enjoy your weekends. I will now be enjoying my break and getting the garden back in order after a couple of busy weeks of neglect.

Six on a Saturday 30.6.18

It’s a lovely day out. We’ve got a school Fair to go to. Then hoping to do a bit of weeding and then maybe get in a few of my seedlings.

1. Unknown rose

This rose came with the garden. After the first year I cut it back quite severely and have fed it better since and it is now giving an abundance of pink flowers. It repeats flower and last year was still flowering well into Autumn.

2. Charles de Mills

Charles de Mills was bought back in April. In its first year I’m not expecting much, but got a few flowers to get a taste of what will hopefully come in great numbers. The closely packed petals give an interesting slice off appearance. I don’t think there quite as nice when they fully open, but a good addition to the garden.

3. Poppies

I don’t remember planting poppies of this variety. I remember scattering the standard red variety, but not these. So either I’ve remembered wrong or got some self seeders. Either way they are very nice. A rich plum going well with the sweet peas and lynchnis. However in the heat the petals are not lasting long.

4. Obelisk

The obelisk of sweet peas is looking good. The sweet peas were looking a bit pasty, but after adding some slow release feed they are looking lusher. The peas are flowering well now with lots to come.

5. Hebe

The front garden has a line of hebes that have all probably grown past their best. However they ate low maintenance needing no watering most of the year. Ideal for the front garden. Some are flowering less, but one variety is still giving a burst of white flowers that the bees are all over.

6. Salad leaves

I had this plastic window trough spare. I used it last year for salad leaves to pick off. I thought I do the same. I don’t grow much edibles, but do like to have something each year to enjoy. These are a David Domoney mix I planted just a few weeks ago and taking off well. It contains a mix of two tender Italian leaves: lollo rossa and lollo bionda. It grows quickly then can be used as cut and grow again salad leaves. While it won’t provide a mass amount of salad it is nice to have a few home grown pleasures in Summer.

While the garden is still a random mix it is gradually taking shape with plants working in better combinations. The borders are filling out, so next year can start looking at how each plant works with its neighbours.

 

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Cabin fever

Today and the next couple of days we are having our hallway plastered. So the house is a little bit topsy turvy. So with little space for Alice to go back and forth we headed out for a walk to prevent cabin fever.

I discovered a new picnic area has been put together with a display showing what wildlife we might see

The spot overlooks part of the mere.

At the moment we have a scarecrow trail around town. At this new picnic spot I discovered one, an actual scary-crow scarecrow.

From there we walked around to the mere’s edge. The mere is a large body of fresh water. It has an abundance of bird life. Within the habitats available it attracts wetland, farm and sea birds. Even on a grey rainy day like today I still saw more variety than many trips to nature reserves.

There were lots of Canadian Geese.

I saw a good number of ducks. Some mallards and some I don’t know.

The jackdaws were hopping in and out of the other birds. As discussed before I like corvids and particularly jackdaws. I know some people consider them evil looking, but I rather like the blue eyes and apparent intelligence.

Alice thought the ducks and geese were hilarious, but they didn’t seem as keen on her.

We saw a number of types of gull. Springwatch released an article last week pointing out that there is no such thing as a seagull. So with that in mind here are black headed gulls and a herring gull.

Within the thistles and cow parsley goldfinches and pied wagtails flitted about. The goldfinch was slightly rude refusing to turn so I could take a photo of its better side.

The thistles were still seeing quite a few visitors despite the colder weather.

After the mere, we walked along the seafront home where we saw the lesser spotted sea pigeons.

Before heading home I gave Alice a quick run around outside the Floral Hall.

The Floral Hall is a community run venture with a cafe and hall. They put on live music, club nights, theatre shows and cinema nights. The flower displays are always lovely. The bug hotel they built this year is looking good and with plenty of teasel around it should see some visitors. Teasel is high on the list of flowers I would like to get growing in the garden next year. It is loved by pollinators and the birds will eat the seed heads.

Not a bad way to fill time staying away from the plastering in the house.

Bees in need

This week is bees needs week. The week is organised by DEFRA and a number of charities. It aims to raise awareness of the role of bees and other pollinators. Today I’ll discuss the aims of the week and a few things you can do to help and share some of my bee photos from the last year.

Bees are vital to gardeners to pollinate many flowers as well as significant to farmers to pollinate crops.

The week is pushing five simple acts.

1: Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees. Having planted in more variety of shrubs, perennials and annuals this year I can see the difference in the number of bees in the garden. Amongst the bees favorites ate the foxgloves and the lavender. Bee and butterfly flower mixes are easy to buy these days. Once sown many will grow easily and self seed allowing the benefit continue. I grow some in my borders, but also in pots for easy management.


2: Let your garden grow wild.

There are a number of parts to this. Leaving grass in winter. Leaving pernial plants uncut gives hibernation shelters. Leaving a few wildflowers like dandelions of thistles gives pollinators there early source of pollen in the Spring. Nettles and brambles are important for many species to lay eggs on. Behind my garden there is a narrow path where nettles and brambles grow. I trim it back as little as possible, so I can still get the wheelbarrow down. This area is particularly good for moths between the thick ivy and nettles.

3: Cut grass less often. Most people don’t need an excuse to leave their lawns. But leaving grass to grow provides a number of species of butterfly good egg spots for caterpillars. Leaving grass after September gives bees nesting sites. With Alice I don’t really want the whole lawn long so I just have areas on the edge I leave to grow longer.

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4: Avoid disturbing nests. Many bees build underground nests in old mammal holes. Trees, walls and dead wood can also be nest sites. So again its about trying to leave them alone over Winter. Bee hotels can be bought or made for many solitary bees that nest above ground. While I haven’t had much luck with bees in mine they are filling with other life.


5: Think about whether to use pesticides. Many pesticides harm bees. Check labels and think carefully before buying. If you do use them try to avoid spraying flowering plants.

The wildlife trust had put out more information sheets here. Nothing very strenuous there, but will give you enjoyment of these vital, wonderful creatures.

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Brownfield

Behind the bus station is an area of brownfield land. I’m unsure what it was like in it’s previous incarnation. There are cement foundations and rubble around, but no clear signs. It has now been taken over by bindweed, nettles, brambles and other wildflowers. As I got home earlier with it being the last day of school, Amy and Alice had gone out, I went went out for a little explore. I have seen rabbits along one of the paths when out with Alice, but couldn’t take the pram down to explore. So I was hoping to see some more.

The area has had an awful lot dumped in it sadly. The site is littered with scrap metal and polystyrene.

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Despite that the site is a haven for wildlife, even on a grey day like today. The bees were out looking ethereal covered in the pollen of the thistles.

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It also provided me with my first sightings of comma butterflies this year. I haven’t seen any on my area. Now I’ve found a site they love. Eight spotted just on a short stretch. I’ve added my sightings to a the Big Butterfly Count along with one small white. It was exciting to see the flash of orange and realise it’s another species I was unaware of within my local area.

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The discovery of the comma’s was a nice discovery during the Big Butterfly Count, so even though I failed to see any rabbits the comma’s made up for it.

I’ve been busy of late, so I’m doing more quick twitter updates for anyone who uses it rather than full blogs. https://twitter.com/Jobasha to follow.