Random Ramblings

Random Ramblings: Personal observations on a wide variety of subjects. Photographs of creatures and things that are taken on seeing the unusual as well as everyday things.

Swirling Sunday spiralling swarms

We have had a mini heatwave this weekend and it has become hot, humid, sticky and sweltering. I thought I'd stroll down the garden and see what was happening at the insect house. Once I had stepped outside, just past the bird table I found myself in a swirling, spiralling swarm of flying ants. They surrounded me in a confetti of wings. They were everywhere I looked ... coming out of the ground in the borders, emerging from the compost bin, up the sides of the brickwork. I'm amazed that only two or three landed on me ... this was definitely not a day for lazing about by the pond ... at least not while the ants ruled both the ground and the air I was breathing!
Winged ants coming out of the borders
Winged ants coming out of the compost bin

Saturday surprise

What a surprise! I have been awarded the Brillante Weblog Premio award established in 2005. These awards are for interesting, happy and with sparkling style blogs. I am not sure my blog has sparkling style - but I would like to say a very special thank you to Liza from Mommy's Little Corner

I have nominated the above recipients the Brillante Weblog Award as their sites are all interesting, have sparkling style and are filled with love and happiness. According to the custom the award may be passed on to up to seven blogs.

The rules for the Brillante Weblog Award are as follows:

l. The award may be displayed on a winner's blog.

2. Add a link to the person who you received the award from.

3. Nominate up to seven other blogs.

4. Then add their links to your blog.

5. Add a message to each person that you have passed the award on to in the comments section of their blog.

All winners of the award may choose not to add a blog post if they do not wish to. The award has been passed on with good intent and best wishes to blogs that really shine, blogs that I personally rate very highly.

Peeping, petal packed, primrose potentilla - perfect

As a young child I sometimes went to my uncle's place, in Devon. In my uncle's garden he had three beautiful potentilla bushes. I remember thinking how wonderful they were covered in hundreds and hundreds of bright yellow primrose flowers. I had never seen primroses growing on bushes before and I would stand transfixed in front of them as though they were enchanted. My uncle eventually gave me a small root and stem from the bottom of one of the plants. It was watered and carefully wrapped in a polythene bag and transported safely back home where it was already looking a sad, little, limp specimen. It was lovingly planted and watered and it thrived ... I have had a piece of the same potentilla bush in my garden ever since - no matter where I have lived.

I do not know the name of this particular variety but it carries more flowers than any other variety I have ever come across. Unlike most of the potentillas it has a propensity to grow quite upright, is slightly taller than is usual, and spreads very slowly from the base which throws out separate branches from the roots.

Potentilla or Primrose bush

Finger licking find

I discovered a shop today. It was situated in Kingfisher Shopping Centre, Redditch - between Julian Graves and Vit-a-Min and opposite to Peacocks. It was a beautiful, old fashioned sweet shop. Most of the sweets appeared to be in glass jars just as they used to be in corner sweet shops. Some of the sweets I must admit, I had never heard of like 'Jamaican Limes' but one caught my eye and brought a smile to my lips ... it was Kali in several colours bagged up and ready for eating.

One of my favourite sweets as a child, was Kali. It used to be sold mainly in yellow (which was the cheaper version) or rainbow ...

For those of you who have never had Kali ... it is a type of sherbet that is made the size of caster sugar crystals ... children would buy quite a lot for very little cost and it was served up in a cone white paper bag. You simply dipped your finger into the powdery crystals and sucked off the contents and it would last for hour after hour after hour. Never had so many children been so quiet for so long as when Kali was available ...

I haven't seen this sweet for years and thought that it was gone from the shops for good ...

Do they sell Kali anywhere else in the world? I wonder ... does anyone remember it or is it more common than I have been led to believe?

Little addition: Kali is pronounced ... kay-lie

A bee see ...

The bees that have made their home in the little insect house are much busier than last years bees ... but, is it my imagination they appear to be very scruffy workers ...
Insect house with bee chambers on Tuesday, 22 July 2008 - first bamboo cane chamber is being sealed by circular leaf portion collected by the leaf cutter bee
Second bamboo cane has leaf cutter bee entering empty chamber Busy bees with more chambers being sealed
Fuchsia leaves that have been sculptured by the leaft cutter bees who carry a portion at a time back to their hive (insect house)
More circles cut from the golden leafed fuchsia

Crackin' crop

Like many people today I compost my waste. I have two compost heaps the first being the traditional variety ... my compost being housed in a wire mesh and wooden frame the second one is a plastic bin with slots in. I place as much as possible in both even egg cartons and it all gets 'macerated' down into beautiful rich dark brown compost that is spread about the garden usually once every year. I have had crops from my compost bins before but this one shows a huge potato plant that has sprung up from a tiny piece of peel.

Many years ago, I used to know a woman who deliberately spread her potato peelings around her garden in every nook and cranny wherever there was a naked bit of soil. Every year she would dig up pound after pound of beautiful, organic potatoes.

If you have spare soil in your garden this is one crop worth trying out - and it's free. Potatoes grow very easily from peelings especially if there are a fair quantity of eyes in the skin. Please remember to wait until after the plant has flowered before digging up the crop. NEVER eat the small green tomato looking fruits that appear where the flowers have been they are very poisonous.

Potatoes and tomatoes belong to the nightshade family which is why their flowers look so very similar.

Potato plant

Wheeee, wee, Wii ..... wheeee!

I am a child again! I have bought myself a Wii Sports ... and I'm hooked on it. Am I really that bad at tennis? How on earth do you swing the bat for baseball - it's like trying to swat a mosquito with a chopstick? At least I have been able to get a few strikes in bowling and I have yet to try out my golf ... I have made a mini Mii. In fact, I have made a few just for the fun of it ... all different sizes and shapes and hairstyles - and I am spending an awful lot of time laughing. :) :) :O Ho ho ho!

Oops forgot the boxing!!!!

Crawling, Creeping Jenny

One lovely, hot, Summer's day when I was a young girl my father took us all out in the car. After travelling down long, winding, country lanes we eventually ended up in a place called Withybed Green. This is a lovely, picturesque, little place on the far side of a very old village called Alvechurch (pronounced alv church or some say - ulv church). Alvechurch is listed in the 'Domesday' book of 1086 - (for those who are interested the Domesday book is now available on line - http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/worcestershire.html ). Some of the very old cottages in Alvechurch have extremely small front doors and if you walk along the main road you can see just how much we all must have grown since the time that these cottages were first built.

To get back to my story ... on this very hot day we travelled to Withybed Green, over the canal bridge that ended up in a cul-de-sac which had a really old public house called 'The Crown Inn.' The Crown Inn ... was magical, it had large green heavy wooden shutters and reminded me of 'The Admiral Benbow' from out of the book called Treasure Island. It had large flower baskets that tumbled with bright flowers and at the back was a large rockery. The rockery was dominated with one flower - it over-flowed with the creeper called 'Creeping Jenny.' The whole area was a mass of thousands upon thousands of bright yellow flowers and I fell in love with this delightful plant there and then.

The owners of the public house very kindly gave my mother a small cutting of the plant which contained a few roots. I have had Creeping Jenny in my garden ever since and find it to be one of those useful plants that you can use in the border, in baskets and tubs ... in fact, anywhere you have either a little gap or you are in need of a trailing plant.

Creeping Jenny
Creeping Jenny can be found growing wild, it currently isn't protected so can be readily gathered to add a splash of colour to your garden. Many people plant it along the sides of ponds where it will comfortably grow and conceal the plastic edging of bought pond liners. It likes water and will die back during hot periods. It is, however, an evergreen and will provide green patches in the borders during the winter. It's usual flowering period is from early May right through until late August. There is now a gold leaf variety available at many garden centres ... I have not had much luck with the gold leaf variety ... but I still have my dark, green, Creeping Jenny!

Special note: The Domesday Book came about after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when King Harold II, (one of England's best Monarch's or Kings) was famously killed on the battle field, taken out by receiving a fatal sword wound, not as many still believe by an arrow in the eye. William wanted to know how much wealth he had acquired and so commissioned the listings of everything in the land that he had conquered and now ruled. This is therefore probably the very first English Census.

Harold's father was the Earl of Wessex, called Godwin and his mother, Gytha was the famous daughter of Ulf the brother-in-law of Denmark's Canute. Although Harold reigned for just 283 days he was a very active monarch. He was a strong and powerful man for at least 13 years. As the Earl of East Anglia he inherited all of his father's lands and soon his title was elevated to Earl of Wessex and Kent and he later formed a very influential position in the life of Edward the Confessor. He went on to conquer and take over the county of Hereford and by the year 1063 he totally crushed the Welsh risings. He was soon to be shipwrecked and held prisoner by Duke William of Normandy in 1064. He skilfully talked his way out by promising that he would help get the Crown for William but as soon as he got back on home territory he claimed that Edward the Confessor had named him as the successor to the thrown. At this time there were several others laying claim to the thrown: Norway's Harold III Hardrada, his brother Tostig, and William of Normandy. Both Tostig and Hardrada were killed by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066 (just outside York). Three days after this dreadful battle William invaded Sussex. Harold II and his army had the hard task then of marching 250 miles in nine short days to fight William at Hastings. Harold only narrowly lost the day ... and ended the 600 years of the Anglo Saxon reign of England.

Little is known of Harold's children with the exception that his youngest daughter, Gunhild travelled to Wiltshire to Wilton Abbey and became a Nun. His Eldest daughter called Gytha married the King Waldemar of Novgorod and died in 1125. Harold had at least five sons and two daughters by two wives.

Extra little note: a withy is the fine long stems of the willow that are cut down and re-grow each year. They are usually grown near to rivers, canals, brooks and other water courses. They are used both in thatching and basket weaving. The name Withybed gets its name from the withy.

Cautious Cat

The other week the cat came in from outside bearing a nasty wound in her tail. It looked like a deep slicing wound and appeared to go right to the tail bones. This has resulted in many trips to the vet with all kinds of medicines. The one thing that I have learnt from my poor cat's nasty experience is that (according to the vet) the wounds are better when they are wet. Whilst in a moist condition the flesh begins to build up and regrow into its original shape - it cannot do this once a scab has formed and crusted over.

This nasty wound is now on the mend ... you can still see the slight kink in her tail, as pictured above but it has now gone past the wet stage and has begun to form a nice healthy scab. She is however walking around rather gingerly ... still defending her territory ... still looking for mice ... and patrolling the garden like a policeman!

Extra note for information: Savlon have now produced Advanced Healing Gel (for humans). This helps to keep the wound moist and allows the flesh to rebuild and mend itself.

More information: for those who have asked me - the vet believed the wound was caused by another cat's claw that lashed out and caught the tail. Cats tend to sharpen their claws on a daily basis pulling them in a downwards movement on, if available, a 'scratching' post. If a 'scratching' post is not provided then a cat will use anything available from a garden fence, a tree trunk, a piece of furniture ... The cat then pulls the claws downwards and parts of the claw or nail break off - usually either side of the point of the claw. This makes the claw extra sharp like a blade in many instances (this applies to the claws on their front paws only). They then use these sharpened claws for several purposes - it helps the animal climb up fences (they can run up a fence vertically), the sharpness helps them to capture small animals (this, sadly, is in their nature - their instinct - fortunately our cat has a preference for capturing mainly mice, the last one being captured around a year ago), and lastly the claws are there for defence to protect them from other cats, dogs and other creatures that try to interfere with them! I am still uncertain whether, in this instance, the damage was done by another cat. The cut was deep lacerating one side of the tail and at an angle so there are several possibilities from broken glass to barbed wire. I am looking out for any new cats in the neighbourhood ... anyone got any other thoughts on what could have caused the damage?

When not in use a cat will retract their claws and mostly just have their soft pads in use. A fox also has retractable claws.

A Special Award

Thank you so much to Heidi,

Health Nut Wannabee Mom

for presenting me with "just plain fun to read" award

Heidi's blog is beautifully written and I enjoy visiting it every day. She fills it with up-to-date information that is both enjoyable and easy to read - why not take a look for yourselves and you'll find yourself hooked on a daily visit too! As is the custom in the blogging community, a blog that has been honoured with this award should seek out four other worthy blogs to pass it on to. This is currently very difficult as I visit so many blogs every day and know that there are several that I would like to pass the award on to. I have chosen four different sorts of blogs and hope that you will pay a visit to each of them.

The first blog I have chosen is: Backcounter Buffet This is a very special blog, not only because food symbolizes love but because Julia is a very caring person who raises dogs that are specially trained for handicapped people. Take a look at her blog and see her wonderful new puppy Ceres and learn a little about what she does.

The second blog that I have chosen is: A Taste of Both Worlds This is a different take on a food blog, Maggie checks out all sorts of delicious offerings some are delivered to her door and some are amazing dishes that tantalise the taste buds ... my mouth is watering, let me know if a visit to her site has the same effect on you!

My third choice is: PlotDog Press Shhhh! This is a special blog that I visit that is both informative and a good read. It not only offers an interesting mixture of reading material but also for all you avid people who enjoy a challenge ... competitions too!

My fourth (last but certainly not least) choice is: Lady Banana This is a blog I visit for fun ... every day you click onto her latest post and it offers one surprise after another. Not only are her posts lovely and light-hearted but there's a chat box, a music widget and much, much more ... go take a look and leave her a message and bring a smile or two to your face. :) :)

Toodle pip

Toodle pip ... meaning goodbye ... to the weaker baby apples as the Summer winds have blown them off the trees and on to the floor. Years ago such fruits would most likely have been eaten by foraging pigs but the pet cat certainly has no need to forage and fruit would probably be at the very bottom of her eating list.

Windfall baby Bramley apples

It is St Swithin's day today ~~~ and unlike last year it has been a lovely, pleasant Summer's day.

'Let us all maketh merry,
St Swithin's sun bathes the berry.
The distant view lies in a haze,
Good fortune lasts one hundred days.'

:) 'Hip, hip, hip, hooray!'

Monday's magical mystery

I have always been taught that creatures, whether they are mammals, birds, arthropods, worms or fish rarely do anything without purpose. I wonder what creature has moved these stones into small groups or piles on the lawn and why?

The first time that I saw a few of these small piles of stones - I thought that one of the family had accidentally kicked them onto the lawn. I eventually reasoned that this was not a possibility when further small piles had been found further into the lawn.

I know that worms very often pull leaves that have fallen off trees in the Autumn down into the ground. Could it be worms that are hauling the stones into piles? As yet I have not seen any sight of a creature moving a stone so I am unsure ... hopefully time will tell ... although I have not heard of anything similar on any other peoples lawns yet!

Mysterious creature moves stones ...

The reign after the rain

The rain has finally stopped but during all of the downpours the bees at the insect house have been fully industrious and have completed several compartments or chambers. I noticed that one of the bamboo canes had been sealed with a bright green leaf and finally tracked it down to a golden leafed fuchsia pictured below. They cut carefully in a circular motion as though they have a measuring tool because magically the cropped circles expertly tailored from leaf after leaf - perfectly fit the bamboo canes.

Fuchsia leaf placed in one of the bamboo canes cut from the fuchsia plant above
This bee is sealing the leaf to the edge of the cane ... round and round she travelled her mouth against the edge of the hole in the bamboo cane. I am assuming that this bee is probably the queen as she is slightly larger and plumper or broader than the others. (Leaf cutter bees.)

Worse and worse when will it disperse?

Lychnis Coronaria ... Fondant Fancies
Saturday ............. and although July is noted to be one of the wettest months of the year it is at the moment becoming despondently reflective of last year. Rain and yet more rain has made the cracked dry borders instantly sodden as there has been so much of it. It has been quite cold and dull and the birds seem to be quite sparse.

At least with all of this wet weather I have finally been able to find out the name of one of my most favourite of plants pictured above. This beautiful silver-grey, velvet leafed plant produces a small ball of shiny, medium-sized, black seeds that readily grow if scattered onto the ground as soon as the seed head opens.

Added thought: It will soon be St Swithin's Day ... are we in for a year of floods like 2007?

Skirret - everlasting vegetable

As more and more of our vegetable needs have been met with visits to the green grocers, costermongers and supermarkets more cottage garden vegetables have been lost to us all.

An old and useful vegetable that would benefit everyone is skirret. Skirret is a root vegetable ... to best describe its flavour would be to imagine a cross between a parsnip and carrot. Once a skirret plant in the garden then it's there forever as they are said to be everlasting. As with carrots and parsnips they have green foliage on top but then they produce a multitude of roots or root tubas and as the roots or tubas are broken off for use then more grow in their place.

Skirret can be used in stir frying, soups, stews, casseroles, baking, chipping ... in fact, it is a welcome addition or substitute to any other root vegetable and therefore can be used to vary old favourite recipes. This lovely, Elizabethan vegetable is worth a place in anyone's garden or back yard. It can be grown from purchasing a small root portion, grown from seed or is even easy to propagate from a small root cutting.

Additional note: For those who have difficulty in acquiring skirret - packets of seeds are available at http://www.organiccatalog.com/catalog/

Wicked, wild, wet Wednesday

My very first memories of the garden include Nasturtiums. My mother would plant the seeds every March ... she would push them into bare spots over the rockery and in the summer the whole patch would be lit up like a million jewels. Each flower would brightly glow and entice me to go and press my nose into their pretty trumpets and ending up with powdery pollen on me. They smelt peppery and and if I accidentally bruised a stem or leaf the smell became stronger and almost like mustard.

By the time that I was three, I had been told that these beautiful flowers had come all the way from Peru. How exciting to have South American exotic flowers in the garden! I used to think of Peru as being covered in Nasturtiums ...

We had neighbours that would pickle the Nasturtium seeds and use them in place of capers. I would look at their crinkly forms stacked in glass jam jars covered in vinegar but never fancied trying them. Many would use the small freshly opened young leaves, like watercress, in salads and some would even toss the flower heads on top of the salad bowl to brighten up a lunch time meal. I confess that I have since tried the young leaves and indeed the flowers but I have still not been tempted to try a pickled seed.

I have always grown Nasturtiums but the last few years they haven't grown so well and this year, although I planted my seeds in March I have only had three flowers bloom - one red one and two deep gold with orange stripes. What has happened to Nasturtium seeds? Why are they no longer as fertile as they used to be? Do they still grow well in Peru?

Little note: the weather today has been extremely wet, windy and wild ... rain, rain, rain and yes more rain!


We have had collared doves come into the garden and breakfast on the bird table for several years. They coo when there is no food to be found and keep cooing until some food is provided. We have both loud and cheeky birds in our area!

Recently, we have had a pair of wild woodpigeons flutter down and eat from the bird table. Their cooing, at times, is similar to the smaller doves and so the first time that I found one on the bird table it flew off with such a noise from its wings I jumped nearly out of my skin. For the first few seconds I wondered what on earth this large bird was then realised that it was a woodpigeon. It flew low and skirted the top of the fence almost skimming it in its hurry to leave the garden ... but it has come back several times and today was joined by its mate. Two more mouths to feed - they seem happy feeding off the assorted wild bird food mixture that I scatter over the table's floor.

(Woodpigeons grow to approximately 42cm in length - they usually lay two eggs - the young remain as nestlings for a full five weeks. The woodpigeon has between one and three broods of chicks each year. The young are fed with fluid produced from crop (a sort of would-be milk), both parents are able to provide this for their young. They have a lovely eight note calling song that goes something like this "Coo-ooo-ooo-ooooo-coo-ooo-ooo-ooooo." The collared dove is much smaller than the woodpigeon at usually just under 30cm in length - they also lay two eggs - the young baby chicks are able to fly and leave the nest after only three weeks. This short period allows collared doves to have up to five broods of chicks each year. Their call is more structured and is something like this "Coo-cooo-coo ... coo-cooo-coo ... coo-cooo-coo ... coo-cooo-coo.")

A rose, is a rose, is a rose?

A few years ago, I was walking around my mother-in-law's garden when I saw stretching across a large area of her hedge a beautiful single petal rose. I had never seen one before and asked where she had purchased it from. Well she said, "I saw this rose in a friend's garden and asked her the same thing and she laughed and replied this is a friendship rose ... and with that she broke a piece off, gave it to me and told me to put it a good six inches into the ground. If the rose grows from the cutting it is said that your friendship will last forever!"

My mother-in-law broke a piece off the rose and gave it to me ... "Now," she said "plant that cutting and our friendship will last forever, too!"

So ... I planted my 'friendship' rose and it has rambled and multiplied and produces bountiful blossoms every year and not only reminds me of my mother-in-law and the rest of my family but also of the saying 'a rose, is a rose, is a rose.'

Single petal rambling rose

Flying feathered fledglings

The robins have both been working relentlessly to feed their nest of young. Late yesterday, their young were suddenly out of the nest and fluttering their wing feathers in the apple trees flying short distances from branch to branch. How quickly they learn the craft.

I was not able to capture any of this with the camera as I was so concerned to make sure that the cat was no where in the vicinity whilst they were learning to be mobile.

Today, cock robin was positioning himself on the garden furniture once more and calling out for more food ... more food. It is difficult to see but all along this cock has a few loose feathers on his back and is easily distinguishable from any other robin. You can just about see it if you look closely. These feathers that stick out ... have no way impaired his ability to look after his family and he is certainly the most vociferous robin that I have ever encountered. He is now so cheeky that he comes quite close to the back door, sits on the fence and calls for more food - perhaps I should have called him 'Oliver Twist.'

'Cock Robin with his permanent ruffled back feathers'

Dusky dinner

Late evening arrived and my robin was still busy catching worms and grubs for his brood. I managed to capture his image in this tree with food held firmly in his mouth. Mmmmmmm!

In the last few years it has been quite noticeable that nearly all species of local birds are active until dark ... they roost at the last possible moment. Many birds, especially in areas where there are orange street lights appear to be singing all through the night and you can often glimpse them taking short flights during the hours of darkness in well lit areas.

Robin at dusk still feeding its young

Bee plug . . .

Somewhere between twilight yesterday and this morning the plug on the top row of the insect house has come out. Looking deep into the cane there is a small hole that something (I am assuming a young bee) has crawled out of and pushed its way into the daylight.
On the top picture you can see the face of one of the bees. The bees go into the canes face first then sometimes they turn around and come out face first - other times they go in face first and come out bottom first. Very occasionally I have seen the bees go in bottom first facing forwards and turn around and come out bottom first.