Teme Valley Musings, August 2020

by Stephanie Mocroft

Having had the unusual combination of plentiful fine weather and plentiful time at home, those of us lucky enough to have a garden will have been able to spend more hours there than usual. Each year I count the different species of damselflies and dragonflies that appear on my garden pond, but this year I have been able to look more closely at their behaviour.

The emergence of our first broad-bodied chaser, a fast-flying powder-bluedragonfly, seen for the first time this year actually crawling out of the water as a nymph and then on the wing a few days later, took place earlier this year than in any of the past twenty years. He then demonstrated the huge degree of sheer hard work necessary to maintain his position as first, and therefore chief, broad-bodied chaser on the pond. He saw off all potential usurpers, engaging in lengthy aerial dog-fights numerous times a day, whilst impressing any females who happened along in the meantime. Using binoculars it was possible to distinguish him from his challengers until, after three and a half weeks as champion, he was finally obliged to retire in favour of another male.

Our pond has been restored slowly over the last few years after becoming severely overgrown. Toads, who we like to watch visiting in March, had reduced in number and although we had hoped to see them again after the work was done, so far they haven’t been tempted. We’ve seen other amphibians come, various types of newt and the odd frog sitting on a lily-pad, so we hope the toads will return in time.  Other visitors, such as bats, herons and grass snakes, have been less shy.

Both within the pond and along its edge we’ve tried to grow lots of native plants. Yellow flag irises, despite a capacity for invasiveness, are very attractive to bumblebees. Purple loosestrife, a plant with striking tall purple-pink spires seems to attract all manner of insects. Buttercup-family members kingcup, lesser and greater spearwort all provide bright yellow flowers, lesser water-plantain bears delicate three-petalled flowers, water avens has nodding bells and the native water lily has elegant white cups. Perhaps prettiest of them all is the flowering rush, with star-rays of pale pink which come into flower in June.

For evergreen interest we’ve planted soft rush, whose pith was once used to soak up wax to make candles. For late-season nectar we have water-mint, whose fluffy mauve flowers continue well into the autumn. Some plants, large and small, have appeared unannounced. Marsh bedstraw is a spindly little specimen whilst hemlock waterdropwort is a large cow-parsley look-alike, host to a particular species of moth. How their seeds arrived we do not know.

In the water itself we grow native water soldiers. These have spiky rosettes of leaves which are the ideal hiding place for developing dragonfly nymphs.The nymphs live in water for up to five years before enjoying a few brief, energetic and hopefully successful, weeks in the air.