Seed collecting, weeding, dead-heading, hoeing, watering and harvesting continue apace. But somehow there is also time for watching the fluffy fat little fledgling birds who specialize in punk hair-dos (feather-dos?). Families of sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits and great tits are visiting the feeders in short bursts.
A wood mouse has made his nest behind a broken sleeper wall which has gaps at ground level. He rushes out, grabs something from under the feeder, and races back to cover. Occasionally he has had a stand-off with the birds on the ground doing the same, but they seem to have come to an arrangement fairly quickly and now co-exist.
Our garden has moved into a predominantly green phase. There are some beds with lots of colour, which includes the veg garden. But on the other side of the house any visible flowers are small and have no ‘wow factor’.
A recent visitor remarked that she had no idea there were so many shades of green. It gives that part of the garden a very peaceful feel. Of course, part of this owes to the fact that the vegetation dulls noise from tractors and aircraft. But some of this effect may be due to our purposeful re-focusing of our visitors’ attention inward.
And though it isn’t always possible to see through to discover what is going on in the fields next door, a few open viewing points have been retained (rural net curtain twitching… guilty as charged!)
We have also used evergreens placed such that some of them to block the view of what is further along the path. It feeds curiosity and anticipation.
The different leaf shapes are more apparent when the colour is mostly green. A touch of purple, yellow or variegated foliage adds contrast, but these colours tend to liven an area up, while the green foliage makes for a calm atmosphere. The Barbara Cartland beds are elsewhere.
Leaf textures also stand out more, as the colour is fairly constant. Some hydrangeas have very smooth but matt leaves (the macrophyllas) while others have textured leaves with a bumpy or a slightly prickly surface (the villosas). Some leaves are shiny (Aucuba). They all reflect light differently.
Plants as you know can be very adaptable. Guidelines for growing them are helpful, but with a little familiarity you can alter their circumstances without any ill effects. Much of that familiarity comes from experimenting and observing, and the degree of success increases when you know more about a plant’s preferred habitat in the wild. Is it woodland or field? Waterside? If they like growing near water is that a pond, in a pond, or in a flowing burn or river?
Never assume plants are passive regarding their survival. They have developed many mechanisms with the aim of thriving and producing lots of off-spring. Competition can be fierce, but they have other tricks if it is too fierce.
For example, did you know many plants are mobile? From seeds to herbaceous growth, they may relocate to seek more pleasing circumstances. Seeds just want to get away using wings like sycamores (wind) or little hooks like the sticky willies (animal carriers).
The plants themselves also have ways of colonizing new ground so that the newer growths aren’t competing with the parent plant. Strawberries have plantlets at the end of 30 cm stringlike growths (technically ‘stolons’), couch grass has underground stems that root (called ‘runners’), brambles send out new lengthy growths that bend and touch the ground. They root where they make contact with the soil.
You see the same colonizing methods in cultivated plants. Iris ‘Gerald Derby’ forms large clumps, and Pulmonaria rubra spreads widely. These are both great plants for filling a space fairly quickly. But both will up sticks and move to a more des-res, wanting more light and/or moisture than their original position afforded them. They divide and grow toward the better conditions and seem to vacate the less good one. Both have shifted lock-stock-and-barrel at least a meter in our garden, as have others.
Other types of movement are easy to take for granted, probably because we see them all the time. Twining climbers like French or runner beans will wind around a support, and similar wild plants like convolvulus will do the same. Strangler figs get carried away and actually kill the host that acts as support.
Twining climbers like these respond to merely touching a support. They quickly start winding around it to attach themselves before shooting upwards. This response is called ‘thigmotropism’ which is auxin (hormones!) directed.
The cells nearest the support (on the inside of the stem) respond to the touch, and they stimulate the cells on the far side of the stem to produce more auxin. Auxin stimulates cell elongation in those further away cells. When only the far side gets longer, the whole stem bends. With continuous contact the stem grips the support and grows.
The sensitivity to touch can also have a negative outcome. If a shrub is growing under a tree and a tree branch keeps hitting the plant below, just knocking it (however gently) in the wind, this can inhibit the lower plant from extending the shoot. So, make sure each plant has enough space to grow upward unimpeded.
We have all seen plants bending on windowsills if they don’t have sufficient light. This response is called ‘phototropism’ and it can be positive (growing toward light) or negative (growing away from it). Negative phototropism can be seen when the light gets too intense—not often an issue for us here in northern Scotland.
Here’s some help in preparing yourself for those searching (and wonderfully logical) questions kids ask about the world they observe. “Mummy (Daddy, Auntie, Uncle...) why do roots grow down?” or “What makes stems grow upward?” And now you know the answer. “Sweetie it is because of hormones, which is something you will know about all too soon.”
For the roots it is geotropism that kicks in, which is a reaction or response to gravity. Gravity pulls downward toward the Earth’s centre, so growing downward is positive geotropism. Stems do the opposite, and this is negative geotropism.
Occasionally you see seedlings which are thoroughly muddled, with the little root growing upward. It may help to lift them and turn them over, facing the right way, but this doesn’t always work.
Stems of the weeping plants also display positive geotropism, growing earthward.
Other survival mechanisms plants display, apart from forms of mobility, includes their chemical reactions to their environments.
Chief among the chemicals plants exude are scents. There is a cost to the plants, in terms of energy and resources, but it appears to be a worthwhile investment.
And while we love most of the scents, they are not produced at random or for our benefit. They are made to attract pollinators or to warn other plants that they are being attacked. Herbs have strongly scented leaves which deter animals from grazing.
For plants, survival means flourishing and setting seed. And in this manner, they use our appreciation of their scents to increase their survival chances. Don’t many of our senses get stimulated by the plants we choose to grow? Sight, touch, scent, hearing and of course their flavours encourage us to choose certain plants over other non-sensory-stimulating ones. They survive (maybe set seed) if we grow them well.
It is the time of year to prune any maples (Acer family--pictured) and birches (Betula family). The reason it is best to prune in late summer relates to the sap. Think maple syrup and birch bark wine. These plant families bleed excessively in spring and early summer and will heal up more quickly now while the weather is still warm.
Look out for butterflies, many fresh ones will soon be emerging.