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Thursday 14 October 2021

It was a glorious autumn day so we had a good turnout. Margaret brought along her friend Annie to help dig out the persistent Macleaya that was surfacing yet again, and which was threatening to hide in the Library for the winter. They also had time to pull out some weeds from that bed.

Welcome Annie!

But the Star of the show today must surely be Derek’s sister Kay, who had travelled all the way from New York to lend a helping hand! Kay was under the illusion that she was in the UK for a family holiday – that’s brothers for you.

Derek and Kay enjoying the autumn sunshine

At least Beverly’s brother Rhys had been upfront with her: “You get in the pond and I’ll watch.”

Beverly likes “hacking things back” so she was in her element: splashing about in the Pond and having to use a saw to cut the vegetation!

And it all ended up on the compost while Glyn was off guard duty.

Glyn was learning to prune the Buddleia. We have a few around Old Hall Gardens so it should keep him busy for a while.

We cut our Buddleias back hard in autumn, often having to use a saw on the old stems.
Next year they will grow back strongly and produce flowers on the new season’s wood

John was edging his way along the Meadow near the South gate. The wooden ‘edges’ have rotted away in places, and he and Dick are planning to repair them. Dick was keeping his head down tidying the bed along the East wall.

Julie was once again hoping to go unnoticed as she hid behind a shrub! Glyn offered to cut it down for her if it was in her way – he’s getting to be a dab hand with that saw!

Julie playing hide-and-seek

Out in the open was Pam, scarifying the Meadow. We’re working in small areas at a time, scratching the surface with a hand-fork to expose patches of soil where we can scatter seeds of Yellow rattle and other wild flowers, most of which we have gathered from the Gardens.

Pam scarifying the Meadow

In the end, we drove Richard up the wall!

The climbing Rose had come detached from the wall, and Richard managed to tie it back. It was a big job!

Thursday 7 October 2021

Beverly and her brother Rhys started to tackle the Pond. It’s quite a challenge as the plants have taken over and are thickly matted beneath the surface of the water.

There were a lot of pond snails among the vegetation that they dredged up! It is a myth that snails will “clean up a pond for you”. They thrive on an abundance of algae and detritus, but they don’t remove them: they just recycle them around the pond.

Our little Helper

We’ve been working in the Meadow area, cutting back the vegetation ready for the winter months, and several times came across what looked like small apples that had been carefully hidden in small hollows. We had been trying to work out how they got there – until Glyn saw a grey squirrel with the answer to the puzzle!

It turned out that they were walnuts, which the squirrel had been gathering and hiding for his winter larder!

Nature Walk with the Nottages

Thursday 9 September was a drizzly day but nevertheless many of the volunteers turned up for a guided walk around the Gardens, led by Rob and Linda Nottage. They had done a ‘Nature Hunt’ for children in the school holidays, as part of the activities organised by the Library, and Derek had suggested that an adult version would be fun.

Pictures taken by our resident Photographer: Glyn Evans.

Part of the exercise was to pick some leaves and try to identify which shrub/tree they came from. By the end of the day, Derek could still rattle off: “oak, ash, yew, lime, walnut, liquid ambar, tulip tree, magnolia, maple or acer, gingko, silver birch, white- and red-berried rowan, judas tree, copper or purple beech, spindle, cornus, hazel, elder, hawthorn, whitethorn, guelder rose, mimosa, sambucus or black elder”. He wasn’t quite so fluent a week later!

British native plants we saw in the pond and at its corners were Purple Loosestrife, Gypsywort, Water Mint, Greater Spearwort, Water Avens and Bogbean. The American plant with tall bluish flower spikes in the pond is Pontederia cordata commonly known as ‘Pickerelweed’.

An arachnid: Leiobunum rotundum

Leiobunum rotundum is a type of Harvestman. These arachnids are distantly related to spiders but they belong to a separate group of ‘Opiliones’. They are very distinctive with a round, compact body and extremely long legs – hence their popular name of ‘daddy longlegs’ (which is also loosely applied to some other species).

Unlike spiders, they have no silk glands and so cannot spin a web; and they have no fangs and do not produce venom. They eat mainly small invertebrates which they can catch using small hooks at the ends of their legs; they also eat various plant material and fungi.

As a defence against predators, harvestmen have a pair of scent glands that secrete an offensive-smelling fluid. And, most dramatically, they can lose a limb – a voluntary amputation known as autotomy. This is a costly mechanism as the limb does not regrow. However, the detached leg can continue to twitch for anything from one minute to an hour and is believed to divert the attention of the attacker thus allowing the harvestman to escape. This has been shown to be effective against ants and spiders.

I was fascinated to read that similar creatures have lived on our planet for millions of years! Well-preserved fossils have been found in the 400-million-year-old Devonian Rhynie cherts of Scotland, and 305-million-year-old rocks in France. These fossils look surprisingly modern, indicating that their basic body shape developed very early on and, at least in some taxa, has changed little since that time. [For more information refer to Opiliones.]

‘Leaf Spot’ on Oak leaf

Leaf spot on oak leaves is caused by a fungus: Tubakia dryina.This is most commonly seen in late summer and early autumn, and is particularly prevalent in years that are wet. The fungus survives over winter in affected twigs and foliage, and the spores are spread the following year by wind and splashes of rain.

Raindrops on Alchemilla mollis, commonly known as ‘Lady’s Mantle’.
Photographed by Sue Leonard

Thursday 2 September 2021

A few of us worked in the Gardens this morning. Lyn carried on where she’d left off last week – it’s a big improvement!

Richard busied himself with the Willow cabin.

Glyn and Betty were cutting back vegetation in the Meadow that the strimmer missed.

John planted out some Hellebores that we had been nurturing in pots over the summer – they had self-seeded in the bed behind the Library.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Beverly had promised to ask her brother Rhys if he’d be willing to come and help with cutting the long hedge. “He has even more power tools than I have!” she had bragged.

So what was he playing at, bringing a pair of secateurs to do the job!?

Luckily it turned out that he was indeed only playing. Soon the pair of them got to work.

By Coffee time it was all neat and tidy – the whole length of it!!

Beverly and Rhys on a tour of inspection of
The Hedge

As if that wasn’t enough, Beverly had baked a delicious cake, giving us each an enormous portion! I didn’t think I’d be able to move after that!

It was worth turning up for Beverly’s cake. Derek’s friend Simon had travelled all the way from Brighton for a piece!

Elsewhere, Glyn got to work on the Meadow. He couldn’t decide between using a long stick or a pair of shears.

But he soon got the hang of it and Dick was having trouble keeping up with him, barrowing away the cuttings to Glyn’s hallowed Compost.

The wheelbarrow was so overloaded that Dick struggled to find the handles!

After Coffee and Cake, Rhys came to help.

“We’ll have this sorted in no time.”

Between a group of us, we managed to do the ‘first cut’ of one half of the Meadow.

Rhys’s power tool was a great help – and he kept a careful eye out for frogs.

There were plenty of other activities going on, of which just a few are pictured below.

Richard carried on where Oliver had left off. John continued under the Magnolia. Lyn did some careful weeding along the south border. And Sue and Margaret weeded around the Crabapples and Cyclamens

Library Event – Nature Hunt

The last of a series of events in Old Hall Gardens organised by Cowbridge Library during the summer holidays, was the Nature Hunt led by Rob and Linda Nottage on Wednesday 25 August.

All photographs have been kindly supplied by Julia Bazley, Senior Library Assistant.

Below is Rob’s account:

While half a dozen 5 to 10-year-olds assembled at the Story Space to be checked in by Julia, we showed some of the moths we had caught at home overnight (and returned them home afterwards). They were all species we’d previously recorded at OHG and were closely examined on fingers and in the magnifying jars provided by Julia.

We next gave each child a leaf from a variety of the garden’s trees, each a distinctly different shape – including Holly, Yew, Ginkgo, Tulip tree, Ash, Lime and Copper Beech. The idea was for them to match their leaf to the relevant tree as we moved around.  The first match was at the Liquidambar on the way to the scouts’ bughouse. There, two of the nests from the birdboxes were compared – the Great Tit’s mossy cushion and an unhatched egg (so small!) with the House Sparrow’s woven grass cup.

Once you have young children’s interest, they’re keen to look around and can often see things we ‘grown-ups’ miss. So it was that one lad’s sharp eyes at a lower level spotted the Willow Sawfly caterpillars lined up on the willow leaves they had been feeding on. This is the first time we’ve seen these here.

Moving on and checking out the Ginkgo, Lime and Copper Beech, we stopped to take in the aroma from the delicate leaves of the tall Fennel at the Dragon border. This brought us to the Willow Cabin, and carefully turning over one of the log seats revealed a chunky black beetle with small pincers which provided another ‘first’: a Lesser Stag Beetle. Under another log was a large grub which could well be its earlier larval stage. Feeding on decaying wood, this can take several years before it’s ready to pupate prior to emerging as an adult.

At various points on our circuit of the gardens, we stopped to look under other logs and pieces of material to find some other ‘creepy-crawlies’ that seem to appeal particularly to young children – various slugs, worms, an ant nest and many woodlice. The adults discussed local names for the latter including granny greys and the Welsh mochyn coed = wood pig.

With so much to look at there was just time for Julia to provide each child with a net for some pond dipping, which turned up a selection of pond snails.

Unfortunately it was a cloudy and relatively cool day, so there were no butterflies and few insects on the wing. But there had been plenty to keep the children’s interests for the hour allocated – and the adults too, who appreciated the site and an event to occupy their youngsters.

Thursday 19 August 2021

Despite the drizzle, a good number of us turned out to do some gardening. It took a while to debate what to do and where to start, but eventually we managed to do a bit before Coffee time.

First out was young Oliver, under the guidance of his Grand-dad Richard. Another great gardener in the making? I remember Oliver helping us with edging the paths near the pond a couple of years ago – and he did a great job! This time Richard explained to him how to prune the Willow cabin.

Oliver soon got to grips with the task

Another hard worker was our oldest gardener, John; he’s about to celebrate his 83rd birthday. During the week he had sawn off some of the Magnolia branches that were arching over the path and blocking the light from any plants trying to grow beneath. Today he came to tidy away the wood cuttings. The recent gift of Astilbes has inspired him to develop this area into something attractive rather than bare ground with a few docks and dandelions.

John is working to enhance the area beneath the Magnolia

Another hard worker was Dick, who quietly wrestled with the very spikey Pyracantha along the East wall.

“I’ve collected a whole bagful while my wife has been playing about in the pond,
doing what she likes best: creating a mess!

Dick was right: Beverly was indeed creating a mess around the pond as she fished out some slimey Blanket weed.

We’ve been getting concerned about the build-up of ‘scummy’ algae in the pond, which can lead to deoxygenation of water and hence have a detrimental effect on pond life. Beverly says she used to use a copper rod for this job in her own pond, but she was managing all right with a stick she’d found.

It wasn’t long before Beverly’s fishing
drew a crowd of curious onlookers

We were all quite glad to get out of the drizzle for our Coffee break, where our Compost King (Glyn) held court.

John was getting quite excited by it all.
“Sit down will you?! I can’t see!”
I hope you won’t be leaving your litter behind!

Having worked all morning at clearing the path to the Compost, Glyn retreated for a rest.

Small Copper

This brightly coloured butterfly was darting about the Meadow and eventually settled on the flower of a Scabious, where it posed for Glyn to take this photograph. Its wingspan is only about 25-35mm, so its small size and coppery colour give a clue as to what it might be.

A Small Copper on Scabious.
Photographed by Glyn Evans

According to various websites, the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) likes to feed on Ragwort and Thistles – perhaps Scabious is a special delicacy for it!

The caterpillars like to munch on Sorrel and Dock leaves.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Now that we are free to travel again, at least in the UK, a number of Gardeners were making the most of their new liberties, leaving just a few of us to do some work! Margaret was up in the Lake District and managed to visit Holehird Gardens where some of our stunning Astilbes came from – she spent the morning watching the volunteers there toiling in the flower beds.

Richard was working his way along the border behind the library, trimming the summer growth of the white Wisteria that had flowered so profusely along the wall. Meanwhile, Biga did some tidying under the main Wisteria: the Poppies have all now gone to seed and the area was looking rather sorry for itself.

John took on the task of sweeping the long path near the Lime tree. It’s good to see him feeling strong enough to do this again!

Betty and Lyn disappeared behind the foliage of the Dragon Garden and were not seen again until Coffee time!

And Julie took on the star role clipping one of the ivy towers.

As for Glyn – well, he’s been shirking (apparently ‘working’) and it was almost impossible to penetrate the jungle that had grown up around the Compost area that he’s been looking after. Glyn has promised to bring his chainsaw next week to sort it out!

Call this a path?!
How are we supposed to get to the compost?