It was lucky that we were not planning any more birthday celebrations: it would have been a wash-out today! Just as I opened the door to walk across to the Gardens, the rain started. So I reached for an umbrella and shopping bag instead.
The forecast had warned us of heavy rain most of the day but clearly someone had ventured out early: the green bag propping up our shed door suggested to me that it could be Richard. As I glanced around, I spied another green bag in the distance. And sure enough, two figures were sheltering behind it.
We picked up more or less where we left off last week – except that Margaret had sensibly gone home to change from her sparkly sandals into her gardening shoes. She had also very kindly washed up the glasses and brought more Prosecco!
Sue popped up from behind a shrub where she was working last week. I hope she hasn’t been there all this time!
And our other Sue had the challenge of pruning the roses climbing up the South wall. It was a tall order!
I’m not sure where Julie was supposed to be working but now that she’s hit her new decade we must expect some confusion.
At least Richard “The Boss” was doing something useful pruning the Quince – and on his birthday too! He should have been having a rest!
You may remember the beautiful Quince blossom in spring? Well, now that the fruits are forming any leaves obscuring them from the sun are picked off and new growth is trimmed back.
But the real reason any of us turned up this Thursday was to continue our Birthday Bash! Today it was the turn of Dick as he was celebrating a new decade, while Richard turned just one year older. It didn’t take us long to enter into the party spirit.
When Rob dragged some sticks and debris out of the pond, he found that he had fished out an unusual-looking spider. Luckily Linda was ready to capture it with her camera so they could ‘take it home with them’ for identification.
It turned out to be Pirata piraticus – commonly known as the Pirate Wolf Spider, belonging to the family Lycosidae (from ancient Greek: ‘lykos’ meaning ‘wolf’). Unlike many spiders, wolf spiders do not catch creatures in a web; instead, they use their jaws and legs to immobilise their prey. It was once thought that they hunt as a group, hence the name ‘wolf’ spider, but in fact they generally hunt alone.
Pirata piraticus can walk quite fast over water by means of water-repellent hairs on its legs, and it can move even faster across pond weed and other floating leaves. Like most spiders it has eight eyes, arranged in two rows – so it has keen eyesight to help it hunt down its prey! Look out for it in a wide variety of wetland habitats including ponds and stream margins. In sunny weather it will hunt in the open, but in cooler weather it will hide amongst vegetation.
The females make good mothers, carrying their egg sac with them, attached to the spinneret. When the eggs hatch, the babies climb onto their mother’s back until they are old enough to fend for themselves. The adult spiders are about 6–9 mm long, and you’ll see them mainly during the summer.
There is no logical reason for us to fear spiders in the UK as none of them will do us any serious harm. However, there are a few that will inflict a nasty bite that can penetrate human skin and, in severe cases, cause symptoms such as swelling, redness, sweating or dizziness. As yet, though, no deaths have been recorded in the UK from a spider bite! If you find one trapped in your house and you don’t like to touch it: throw a towel over it and shake it out of the window to safety.
As for those cobwebs that you might fight when doing your housework: marvel at the amazing qualities of a spider’s silk thread. It is incredibly strong and flexible, with some varieties being five times as strong as an equal mass of steel! It’s no wonder that it has become the subject of scientific research and that humans are looking at how they could harness that astonishing strength for new materials.
Don’t be an arachnophobe: without spiders, the wonderful web of life would be incomplete!
Tonight’s the Night! . . . When the episode of Casualty that was filmed partly in Old Hall Gardens will be aired on BBC1. You may remember that the film crew were busy here back in March this year.
Actually the scheduling was changed so we sat through a rather drab episode waiting in vain for the climax! When I did eventually catch up with it on iPlayer I wouldn’t have recognised Old Hall Gardens as it was filmed in the dark – but the fairy lights were very pretty.
With an Amber Weather Warning in place for ‘extreme heat’ we didn’t feel like doing too much – except for Richard and Sue Leonard who were already breaking a sweat when I arrived at 9:30!
Lyn and Sue Mercer worked in the shade with Julie. They had strict instructions not to let Julie skip off home before coffee break – because we had planned to have a little birthday celebration to mark her new decade. We were relieved to see she’d turned up in this heat, or we’d have had to lure her into the Gardens somehow!
Margaret busied herself trimming some shrubs – in full sun!
In Beverly’s absence (our Ace Strimmer), John and Biga cut down the long grass that was obscuring the Meadowsweet in the Meadow area.
By 11 o’clock we were all gasping for a break but Beverly’s promised birthday cake had still not appeared! I rang her to ask if she’d eaten it but Dick assured me it was intact and he’d be with us right away. It was worth the wait: beautifully decorated and delicious!
Dick and I were discussing Ragwort on Thursday and I said I’d do a bit of research, so here it is:
Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) has acquired a bad reputation for being poisonous to horses, and many people believe that there is legislation in place for it to be pulled up. It is one of five “injurious weeds” named in the Weeds Act 1959 and the Ragwort Control Act 2003 provides guidance to landowners, but neither of these make it illegal to grow this plant. There is therefore no statutory obligation in place for a landowner to control the weed, except under certain circumstances which may be required by the government, and nor is it “notifiable”.
The harmful substances contained in ragwort are pyrrolizidine alkaloids and it is these that can cause irreversible cirrhosis of the liver in horses if a certain amount (some research shows 3–7%) of body weight is consumed.
Horses normally avoid eating fresh ragwort when grazing because of the bitter taste of its leaves. The problem arises when ragwort is included in hay that is fed to horses – so clearly, it is important to eliminate it from fields that are cut for animal fodder.
There is no evidence that ragwort is similarly poisonous in humans, although some individuals may be sensitive to the sesquiterpene lactones contained within the plant which can cause skin irritation.
Pulling up ragwort by its roots can be difficult and, like many other plants, if just a small section of root is left in the ground it will grow back again. Normally ragwort is a biennial plant, but if not properly uprooted it can become a perennial.
In the broader context of wildlife, ragwort makes an excellent food source for many pollinating insects, in particular the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae) which entirely depends upon this plant. The cinnabar flies by day and by night, and its striking black and red colours mean that it is often mistaken for a butterfly. Its black and yellow striped caterpillars feed on the leaves of ragwort and they absorb some of the alkaloids as they do so, making them poisonous to potential predators.
It was a hot sunny morning and Julie bagged the best spot to work: in the shade along the East wall. At least, that’s what she told me – but although there was some evidence of her whereabouts she was nowhere to be seen!
Eventually, Julie emerged for our coffee break – and she had miraculously filled her bag with weeds including the invasive Enchanter’s Nightshade. A good morning’s work!
Richard had had his eye on the long grass by the Library and Beverly was happy to come to his aid. John, who had managed to coax the “Old Lady” – that’s what he calls our old lawnmower – back to life, raced over to join in the fun.
Beverly has developed a great technique with the strimmer, leaving John to go over it all with the mower.
Later the duo turned their attention to the island of long grass near the Meadow.
Dick came suitably attired for the sunshine and was hunting down weeds, including Ragwort – of which more another time.
Margaret was the early bird today and spent hours weeding in the area near the South-west gate. It’s looking very colourful.
Nearby, Lyn was playing at being Lady of the Manor, doing some gentle pruning of the roses. It makes a change from her wild Scottish Dancing!
Both were keeping well out of reach of Beverly, who was once again wielding some heavy equipment and looking thoroughly dangerous! You have to hand it to her though: she uncovered a lot of ground today, strimming away the tall grass that engulfed the shrubs near the pond.