Sunday, 18 June 2017

Saturday 17th June 2017

Our experiment with the garden, the process to replace the lawn with a meadow has passed it's first test with flying colours. One quarter was seeded with Yellow Rattle, hoping that this would weaken the grass ready to be seeded with a wildflower mix this autumn. And in the process attract a woder range of butterflies and other insects. The yellow rattle means that we cannot mow the lawn/meadow until late July once the seed heads have dried, meaning grass has grown longer, and wild grasses have sprung up, creating roosts for butterflies and moths. As you walk through it, moths are woken from their slumbers, meaning that we now have polinators by day and night now.

One hundred and sixty six The cats also like the longer grass, waiting to pounce on one of the other cats, usually Scully. But all is good, if looking a little untidy. This autumn will see the remaining three quarters seeded with more Yellow Rattle, and the remaining quarter be seeded with wildflower, and maybe an orchid or two.

So, it is with some satisfaction that we sit in the new shelter, both wisteria rapidly climbing the posts of it to make a canopy, looking out over what we have created, the sound of birdsong in our ears, and the tinkle of the Footballer Wives' fountain.

Saturday was the second day of the long Hot Summer Weekend which is expected to last most of the week in fact. So, after complaining for weeks that it doesn't feel like summer, what with the cool breeze and that, it has straight to phew, its too hot innit? Without passing Go.

If anything outside was going to be done, it would have to be done before midday, at which point we would have to retreat to the stoop to sip on our mint juleps. As usual.

Small Blue Cupido minimus Before then, there is shopping to do, butterflies and orchids to seek out. We did have enough food, but fruit and veg would soon run out, so after getting up and complaining about how hot it had been during the night, we have coffee and Tony and I go to Tesco for a quick whisk round, topping up supplies. Fruit, bread, vegetables and some paprika fried corn ar bought and paid for, and we are on our way out as the rest of Dover are just stirring.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii Back home the shopping is packed away, we have a breakfast made up of left over food from Friday. The Heston Blumenthal salmon bagels and sandwiches. Not pretty, but it was ok. Meaning Tony and I could go out and I could show him some more interesting sites and then we could hunt for some orchids! He's a lucky man.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii We drive into Dover then up Military Way the other side to Western Heights so I could show him one of the great hidden treasures not just of Dover, but the country. Built defend both Dover and England from Napoleon, three massive fortresses were built into the top of the downs to the south of the town, on a hill the other side to the castle. It is owned by English Heritage, but can spare no cash for it, so it is up to a band of volunteers to keep the weeds and vandals at bay.

Small Blue Cupido minimus There is a walk through a low tunnel into the moat, this never had water, but provided killing fields for the firing points in the carponiers in the fortress. It was all locked, so we walked rounf the fortress in the moat, passing a few other braving the already hot day, either jogging or walking their dogs.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii From there it was a 30 second drive back down the hill to the small car park, beside which is a large colony of Common Spotted Orchids. If I'm honest, I have enough shots of them, but there is always the chance there will be a rare variant to look for, so I get the camera and scramble up the bank and presented with the sight of about 200 spikes of all shapes and sizes, some var. alba, some close to it, but nothing to hyper-coloured or anything.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii But inbetween I could see the sooty blue-black shapes of Small Blue Butterflies flittering about, looking for pollen, and occasional basking in the sunshine. So I forget about the orchids and am chasing the butterflies until I get an open wing shot, and one of the undersides. This is Britain's smallest butterfly, so a challenge. But one I accept.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii Back to the orchids, and already they are beginning to fade, meaning the final part of the season, the Helleborines will soon be upon us. But for now, snap these and the marsh before they are gone for another 48 weeks.

Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii After snapping them, we made the short drive to Folkestone then up the Elham Valley to Park Gate Down, to look for more orchids, obviously. To me and all of who live in Kent, the narrow lanes that weave through the fields, dip and dive over and under the downs, are such a common sight to us, we barely give them thought, but Tony thought it magical, and so I stopped on the way down the PGD so he could snap the lane as it went through a wood. It is good to see things through a visitor's eyes sometimes.

Musk Orchid Herminium monorchis All this way to see the tiny flowering spikes of the Musk Orchid, now at what counts as their peak. They stand no more than 6cm high, and being green are hard to spot among the surrounding plants. And that as it is a large site, and they grow in just a tiny part of it, unless you know where to look, you'd never find it. And finally, I saw just 9 spikes yesterday, so pretty thin pickings.

We arrive at the right area, and I say to Tony "this is where is my orchid eyes are working properly". Within a few moments, I had spotted the first of the spikes, showing lime green instead of the darker green of surrounding grasses. Tony goes for a walk, while I search for more spikes.

I am also there to see how many var. alba Fragrant and CSOs there are. Turns out a bumper year for Fragrant, and there are many pure white spikes to find. After an hour, it is too hot to walk about any more, so when Tony comes back we walk back to the car and begin to return home. We call in at Morrison's for some lunch, pasties and some cream for the strawberries I got this morning. I did forget the cream, but hey.

We were in and out in 5 minutes, escaping the shopping hordes up Connaught hIll and along the coast road and home. Just in time for lunch, and a beer.

And with the heat of the day at its peak, we retreat to the cool of the house, listening to the radio as outside swelters in the summer sunshine. We have strawberries and raspberries wit cream, and then relax some more.

Jools and I do try to sit outside, but the humidity drives us back in twice, until it gets to seven, when a cool breeze just begins to move the air. Tony is introduced to the delight of insalata caprese, I don't think he is convinced, but he does eat most of it, and says it was OK.

Tny and I have a shared love for a certain American singer, despite living on opposite sides of the world, so I talk him through all the different versions of Pat Benatar's singles I have, playing We Live for Love of the original 12" single, before playing some Madonna and Soft Cell until we go out for the final hour to watch dusk fall. I sip whisky, and I declare that the day is good.

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