Sun Flowers and Banana plants

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The Sunflowers are tall and majestic at Coombe Wood Gardens.

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The sunflower head consists of many tiny flowers called florets. The central ones resemble normal flowers, whereas the outside florets look like yellow petals to produce a “false flower”. After pollination every little flower produces a seed and there are nearly two thousand seeds on one sunflower.

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The seeds are arranged in spirals around 34 in one direction and 55 in the other. You might think that is pretty random but these numbers actually follow the Fibonacci sequence. Every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.

Many other wildflowers can be found in the gardens.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou will also find Banana Plants at Coombe Woods. The plants do not produce any actual fruit as the weather is still too mild despite our recent heatwaves. But they look majestic and give a tropical feel to the gardens.

A recent article by Monty Don, the TV gardener, in a weekend magazine explained how he grew his banana plants in pots but took them indoors for the winter. Terence the gardener at Coombe Woods says he likes Monty Don and that he talks a  lot of sense. Mind you he added “they have many advisers to ensure their programmes are factually correct”

Back at Coombe Woods, in the autumn the stems are cut back to stumps and wrapped in a hessian sack. A tarpaulin then covers the top to prevent the plants from succumbing to winter frosts

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These stems will be cut back to prepare the plant for the winter

The lavender bushes are also popular in the gardens and are a firm favourite with the bees.

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Heron of Bramley Bank

I was privileged recently to see the Heron fishing at his home in the largest natural woodland pond in Croydon, at Bramley bank. The elusive heron is quite shy unlike his more gregarious cousin at Waddon Ponds.

When I caught up with the heron it was intent at fishing for his supper and did not mind my presence which usually induces a mad flurry of wings and a swift exit. The heron adopts two approaches to hunting , either standing still and quiet in the water waiting for a fish to swim past nearby or by moving around the pond snatching a fish at close quarters.

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The heron adopted both tactics as you can see from the photographs. Whatever approach is used the sixth vertebra in a herons neck is longer than the others and pivots over to the seventh vertebra to permit a fast strike when food comes into range.

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Heron arrives at his second destination, Heathfield

The heron finally became aware of my presence and flew the short distance from Bramley bank to a nearby pond at Heathfield. Hotfooting it, me not the heron, I caught up with the heron  while he was in the water, but again not much luck in catching any fish. Shortly afterwards he was spotted flying back to Bramley bank, although yours truly was too exhausted to mount any further catch ups that evening!

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Heron flies home to Bramley Bank. Their wingspan can measure between 150 and 200cm.

Butterflies at Hutchinson’s Bank

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHutchinson’s bank is located five minutes from New Addington tram stop or off Farleigh Dean Crescent, Featherbed Lane, Addington. However, this road is narrow and there is no parking on site. If exploring the site please beware that the paths can be narrow and the gradient is very steep.

The bank is one of the largest areas of chalk grassland remaining in Greater London. It is found on thin soils over chalk rocks and was originally created by clearance of trees and shrubs and grazing of livestock over eight thousand years ago.

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Kidney vetch

Photographing the small blue butterfly proved problematic as like most butterflies they don’t stay still for long. The blue is UK’s smallest resident butterfly although the blue colour is not very distinctive, it is more of  a tinge. The common yellow was, as its name suggests, easier to identify but the most distinctive butterfly was the brown peacock.

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Yellow and blue butterflies together

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The brown peacock butterfly below has large eyespots that can startle predators and give it a much better chance of escaping foes than relying solely on camouflage. It can also rubs its wings together to produce a hissing sound that is audible to humans.

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Volunteers at Hutchinson’s have spent much time clearing the area and fitting fencing and benches.

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Overlooking Addington Court golf course with Heathfield in centre background towards Croydon.

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Shorn sheep help to keep the grass mown. The two sheep in the foreground are Herdwick sheep the same type as at Heathfield.

Terrific Terabac Play at Heathfield

The organisers of Croydon Ecology Centre arranged for Terabac, a drama and dance group, to visit Heathfield to perform a play about insects, their life story and the effect that mankind has on them.

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Due to the inclement weather, it was a bank holiday after all, the play was moved from the far rose garden to the walled garden immediately next to the side of the house. The backdrop of multiple trees and bushes at Heathfield provided the ideal setting for the play.

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The unusual array of objects spread out across the lawn  represented an insect and served as props to be used throughout the play. The lead drama actor and  coordinator Vanessa welcomed us to the production . Atmospheric music and some ethereal singing set the stage.

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The opening scene was a dramatic if sombre affair with the death of an insect and how its demise should affect us all. The players took us through the life cycle of a variety of different insects with humour and pathos.

The australian dung beetle, hope you are not eating while reading this, came in for a bashing as it was unable to deal with the cow dung that the imported european cow was producing. Initial blame was laid on the Australian sun that caused the beetle to only move in straight lines, but then it was remembered that the dung beetle came out only at night! The solution was to import European and African beetles to do the digestion and save Australia from the 12 cow pats a day that each animal produced.

The lifespans of a dragonfly enabled the dancers to show their prowess to good effect.  A dragonfly spends the first two to three years of its life as a larvae under the water. When the larvae are full-grown they climb up the stem of a plant and shed their skin. This metamorphosis was dramatically demonstrated by the dances who emerged together from a sack cloth. Further dances were performed with some acrobatics during the play with good choreography and some movement through the audience.

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A lady dressed in black performed the role of the Black widow spider. She engaged the children sitting at the front of the audience and sent a shiver down their spines as well as some adults. Before we annihilate the more familiar  house spider, a fly popped up to remind us that without the arachnids the place would be overrun with flies like her! She then made humourous exchanges with the audience about the hazards of flying into windows; but she concluded that mainly it was a good bugs life.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall a most enjoyable performance with good interaction with the crowd and some sexual references  that were funny and appropriate for all but the youngest of children (of whom their were none in this audience).

A poignant moment came at the end when it was explained an elderly lady from Brighton who had cherished her garden could only have artificial flowers when she moved into sheltered accommodation. She watered the flowers everyday as it reminded her of  home.

The play, about an hour long, was performed free of charge although donations were requested and we were also invited to retire to the Heathfield pantry cafe for tea and cakes.

Afterwards one of the performers explained that the play had been two to three years in the making and the dancers were brought on board in the last two months.

Ten Cygnets

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The first “babies” of the year at waddon ponds belongs to the swans. Ten cygnets were born a couple of weeks ago, a good number considering that the average is around six cygnets and the maximum is ten. The swans at waddon ponds have done well and the parents mate for life so there is potential for a large brood every year.

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cygnets about to try the new slide

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Unfortunately, I am sad to report that a visit yesterday confirmed a sighting of only eight cygnets. The most likely culprits are foxes, crows, magpies and herons that may pick off the youngsters that stray too far from their parents sides.

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I note the swans have moved to a more secluded part of the pond where I photographed the cygnets. I thought at one stage the cygnets were going to walk up the plank to afford me an even closer view, but the female swan sensibly discouraged their adventures by swimming away from the edge of the bank.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwans reach maturity after 4 years but the parents encourage them to leave the area from around six months and you can see more pictures of older cygnets on my previous blogs.

The bees and the cedar

In the recent high winds a branch in the middle of the cedar tree at heathfield started to tear away pulling with it a number of lower branches that trailed close to the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGarden contractors were quick to identify the problem and coned off the area as you can see in the photographs.

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I am pleased to say that less than a week later the offending branches were trimmed back and the area made safe in time for the heathfield plant sale yesterday, sunday.

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The cedar tree was planted by Raymond Riesco who owned the property prior to the council. It was a birthday present to his wife who opened the curtains one morning to find the majestic cedar tree planted in a prominent position in the garden. It had been transported there overnight that just goes to show you could have items delivered efficiently before the days of the express couriers.

 

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Cedar tree still looking good despite its enforced trim

 

The orchards were also open on sunday and the female bees were hard at work pollinating the nearby trees that are all fertilised organically and are in flower. If you look closely at the base of the hive you can see the bees queuing to enter the hive.

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The hive was manufactured by EH Taylor, crest at the top, the leading maker of beehives in the uk from the 1800s until they were taken over in the eighties by EH Thorne. The factory had its own siding off the main railway line at Welwyn station in Hertfordshire. The new owners still make beehives today.

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Crazy Coots at Waddon Ponds

Now that the coots have finished their “easter eggs” they can get down to the serious business of finding a mate. Once found the difficulty the male has in holding onto his chosen bride is keeping away the other marauding suitors. Best to keep the head down but feathers up position ready to charge at a moments notice. As the following pictures show it’s a case of “sparks” will fly when two males meet and the pond is not big enough for the both of them. Hmm reminds me of a seventies pop group.

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guarding his mate

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Uh oh potential trouble spotted , best adopt head down , feathers up position

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I’m off on the attack

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Nearly caught the intruder

The Canada Geese are adopting a more serene pose , surprisingly, preferring to preen and clean their feathers whenever they come into land. They adopt an upright pose after coming to rest in order to carry out their ablutions.

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How they can stand up in the cold water , almost walking on water is beyond me. If we tried something similar, provided we did not sink first, hypothermia would quickly set in as the cold would be transferred by our veins straight to the heart. In contrast the goose has an artery next to the vein that warms the cold blood and takes the chill off as it reaches the heart.

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Easter at Coombe Wood Gardens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATerence Meredith,  Gardener of the Year in 2013 and the team have excelled in their choice and variety of plants on display in the rockery this Easter. Primulas, Tulips, Pansies, Pink Buttons and even upside down tulips, Coombe Gardens has it all.

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If you are intrigued by the tulips that seem to have been planted upside down  I have covered these plants in a previous blog.

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upside-down tulips

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Happy Easter!

 

 

Horse at Tram crossing

I was walking along the pavement when I met a horse. No, it’s not the beginning of a joke, it happened to me recently and up close he/she ( I did not look that closely!) seemed pretty big .  I managed to “pull over” on to the grass verge and then watched as the horse and rider manged to negotiate heavy traffic by the tram crossing.

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Polite notice: Please keep clear of my hooves I will be running in the Grand National this weekend.

Fortunately I had my camera to hand and was able to capture the events in real-time as they often say on the sports programs. Each photograph I have annotated to give the opinions of the horse if it could articulate its thought aloud.  No doubt the skill of the rider also had something to do with the safe crossing and their onward journey to the stables at the back of Heathfield.

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I have never met a horse called “trams” before. Does he live round here?

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Still trying to find a safe place to cross , such a nag.

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Half a furlong left, I hope they don’t call me back for a false start

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Phew! safely across and not much further until I can enjoy a bag of oats

Herb Garden at Heathfield

Last year Friends of the Earth with help from Heathfield volunteers, planted flowers and herbs at the rockery to attract honey bees that are in considerable decline. The result as you can see is a fine spread of spring plants that are all hardy perennials.

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Heathfield rockery

Heathfield also benefited from the ingenuity of one council employee who thought it would be a good idea to plant 20,000 crocuses on the vacant plot of land where stood Taberner House, the former council office hq in Central Croydon. He raised £5,000 through a crowd funding scheme online. The unique strain of crocus produced violet flowers in the autumn and was named the Croydon Saffron crocus.

The saffron flowered for two years before the Croydon site was redeveloped. 8,000 bulbs were donated to schools and community gardening groups including heathfield. This blog is being written in April so unfortunately no crocus flowers are available, but I will be sure to include some pictures in my autumn blog .

Meanwhile a plethora of daffodils adorn heathfield’s grounds.

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worms eye view of daffs

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Magnolias are in abundance at heathfield , these trees or shrubs have amazing  goblet- shaped flowers that appear in the spring. They command considerable space and are mainly half as wide as their height. The magnolia is one of the most ancient flowering tree and as it evolved before the bees it can only be pollinated by beetles.

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Goblet flowers – perhaps Harry Potter’s favourite tree?

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Rhododendrons have spectacular spring flowers and  have young leaves and stems covered in a striking dense woolly covering (indumentum) . They need an acid soil and have shallow roots. If you would like to plant one in your garden the roots should be placed just below the surface or the plant may die.

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Camelia at heathfield