Sylvia Clare’s Column – Bugs, Buds and Bark

Published: July 31, 2022

It is so warm again today, and with absolutely no lack of moisture in the soil, the garden has been shooting forward as if a week is more like a month. I looked back at last year though and thought I would read something very different, memory serving that it had been a late and cold spring but actually I started then also with a comment on the heat for the time of year and also the list of what is in bloom, and much is the same.

01 13

Picture 1 of 21

Then I started looking with a different eye at what was happening out there, writing with a slight variation on the theme and what I saw was what the title suggests; so much activity, everything buzzing with life and purpose; bursting with growth and the deep rich colour in the details which is so often overlooked for the fully formed final presentations of leaf, or flower. So I went around noticing how amazing the promised arrivals also were; they are there in abundance and, I think, many before they are quite due. It has been as warm at 20C here on the sunny days, with a little frost at night on the clear nights, but nothing that would cut the growth back much on anything except tender plants and mine are still being nurtured in the greenhouse or kitchen windowsill for at least another month until I am certain we are clear. Who knows though with climate change and that pesky Jetstream jumping around the place, too far north, too far south etc, bringing strange extremes of weather that we really are not used to in out temperate climate of gentle transitions from season to season, from month to month. Buds are bursting, bugs are coming out of hibernation and bark is glossy and gleaming, especially on the Tibetan cherries and Himalayan birch, also our bamboos are looking very colourful, both the black and the yellow/green striped forms which also crop as useful extra long ornamental garden canes each year. I hope to have some new birch bark coming soon too but they are too young as yet to show their true colours as it were.

The combined flower/leaf buds on the Amelanchier were such a soft pink and those of the Olearia had a lovely greyish hue. Rich blue alpina clematis Frankie flower buds are just opening right next to those of Sambucus black lace leaves, through which it clambers, one taking over from the other as the spring progresses. Another Elizabeth hangs in loops and drapes over a pergola and look so delicate against the bright blue spring sky. I love passing under this pergola when it is out; the scent can catch your breath at the right time.

Other leaf buds emerging on my dark leaved Malus profusion have an especially rich shiny gloss to them before they open any further, and peering into their interiors the flower buds can just be seen, plus the fire of leaf buds on the photinia red robins really bringing colour and texture into everything, much of which is easy to overlook until one chooses to look more deeply.

Other flower buds on a white chaenomeles nivalis, various hedges of blackthorn and an early cherry or two, including kojo no mai. Flowers and leaves are all waiting for their moment and of course some come much later, after the night air has lost its chill.

We have just finished a mindfulness retreat week here and the garden really came into its own in the sunshine as we all walked slowly around it looking deeply into everything there, exploring the moment whilst being bathed in sunshine and listening to birdsong everywhere, buzzing of insects and many early butterflies flying around and already pairing off to mate. It really made for a wonderful present moment experience that one could become fully immersed and not even notice the time passing.

Earlier in the year I had found several over-wintering peacocks in my chicken shack shed and brushed away spider webs to make sure they got through the winter uneaten. I was rewarded by watching them dancing in pairs around the garden and settling on the purple shades of aubretia flowers which are grown for such a purpose at this time of year. Also out were bumble bees in many forms, mostly still queens looking to start their colonies for this year. Ladybirds are emerging from the folds of the many varieties of euphorbia flower heads and other foliage (I am not sure which are natives and which are the harlequin invaders though) and a yellow flowering berberis hedge covered in hundreds of plain looking average black flies and hoverflies all excitedly pollinating and collecting whatever they also feed on. This hedge is usually a home for both sparrows nesting and sometimes dunnocks too as although it is not that high, it is so thick and kept well trimmed so as not to attack passers-by that it is an excellent hiding place from predators; also used as a ‘dive into' place for all smaller birds when an occasional magnificent sparrowhawk flies down onto our bird feeders as the nearest dense cover for all. Other bright orange berberis buds are such a deep rich colour before they open and the petals spread, thinning the depth of colour into a wider but paler form, still lovely but different. I hope I have enthused you to look not just at what is in flower but also at what is in bud, what is emerging and what is shining in the low angled sunshine. There is always something new to see – even when you have been working the same plot for several years, it just takes a new angle to look at and a deeper way of seeing.

Sylvia Clare

Text and photographs by Sylvia Clare, who has been an HPS member for more than 10 years.