April has been a challenging month weather-wise, with Saharan dust blown away by polar winds that gave way to a lengthy dry spell which has left many plants in the garden with a noticeable purplish tinge of distress to their leaves.   

The distinct lack of showers this April seems to have stifled activity to some extent; however, spring has sprung at Hamilton Lane regardless, with the familiar birdsong of winter now accompanied by the sylvan warbling of the blackcap and the lilting chatter of linnets.  This provided an agreeable soundtrack to what was a busy and sometimes frustrating month for me.

My delivery of plugs arrived a little later than I’d hoped, given that I’d wanted to get them established before the slugs grew big enough to view the new arrivals as mere hors d’oeuvres, but it wasn’t to be.  I pressed on anyway and planted 60 plugs of various species including field scabious and ox-eye daisy only for half of them to be decimated within a week with only tell-tale slime trails left to show the identity of the culprits.  As a desperate measure I’ve resorted to shielding individual plants with plastic drinks bottles, which have become more conspicuous than anything else.  With even more plants arriving in May, there’s to be no let up and probably a lot more bottles.

Although nothing has exactly burst into full bloom recently, there is one flower beginning to put on its modest show.  Salad burnet is a curious plant, with its clusters of tiny knobbly red flowers looking like a medieval mace.  I’m not sure quite how it ended up on the plot, but it really likes it there and has spread to all corners.  From what I’ve been reading, it seems that these flowers do attract pollinating insects and the leaves are sometimes food for the caterpillars of the grizzled skipper butterfly.  I’ve never actually witnessed any activity myself, but I’ll be sure to take a closer look over the coming weeks.

It’s not just birds, bees and butterflies that I welcome to the wildflower garden, but a whole host of invertebrates that often gets overlooked when we think of wildlife.  Since I started working on the garden, I’ve really come to appreciate the presence of grasshoppers.  That flat, intermittent buzzing may not be very musical, but it is an integral part of the sound of a meadow on a heady summer’s day.  By late July there is a near constant buzz from the long grass and every step I take results in a veritable spray of these innocuous grass-munchers.  April has seen the first appearance of their minute, pale nymphs in the garden this year and – in a strangely paternal way - I look forward to watching them grow.

Another of my regular guests is less likely to win people over.  All the manure used on nearby allotments attracts – among others – an abundance of yellow dung flies.  While their larvae feed on the manure itself, the adult form is actively predatory and likes nothing more than lurking on prominent vegetation from which it darts out and seizes passing invertebrates.  I see many of these flies as I go about my business and I might not have mentioned them here had I not taken a photo of one that I’m inordinately pleased with!

That’s about all for April, but there is plenty of activity on the cusp of bursting into full life that I’ll be sure to talk about in May’s blog.