Teme Valley Musings, September 2022

by Stephanie Mocroft

When the sun is shining it is a great joy to watch the garden come alive with insects. This year I have been trying to learn a little about shieldbugs and have been pleased to identify five species on my patch. Shaped like a shield, as you might have expected, they also go by the name “stink-bugs” due to their defence behaviour of squirting smelly fluid if they feel threatened. I found a sloe shieldbug, but not on a sloe bush, a red-legged shieldbug in my cherry tree, a woundwort shieldbug, but not on woundwort, a spiked shieldbug in long grass and agreen shieldbug just tootling about in my front border. They all suck up plant sap, but don’t seem to have damaged any of my garden plants so I’ll be quite happy to come across any of the other common species.

My favourite garden insect is the dragonfly and this year has found them more elusive than usual. Perhaps the broiling sun has been too much for them or maybe, yet again, our pond is getting a bit overgrown. My usual three damselflies, large red, azure and blue-tailed, have all been in evidence and, so far, the four-spotted and broad-bodied chasers, southern hawker and common darter have made up the list. Whilst on a brief visit to Wales I chalked up a golden-ringed dragonfly, emperors and scarce blue-tailed damselflies, so that made up for my low garden numbers.

I must mention butterflies,which seem to have been much in evidence this year. The very first was a beautiful early brimstone, but so pale that I had to get out the books to confirm that a female can indeed be so pristine white. Then came the holly blues followed by a host of colourful species. It has been interesting to see what plants attract different species. A cloud of gate-keepers has taken over my marjoram plants, whilst the larger peacocks, cabbage whites, red admirals and silver-washed fritillaries head for the buddleias. These plants really do live up to the name “butterfly-bush”. My garden has twelve different forms, which may be considered a bit excessive, but as they run from dwarf to huge, come in different colours and flower at different times I certainly think they are worth having. Oh, and verbena bonariensis which drew in a humming-bird hawk-moth.

Bees are also engaging to watch. They seem to be about on duller days and are on the wing earlier in the day and later in the evening than other insects. They love lavender and it’s great to see them bending the flower-stalks downwards with the weight of their dumpy furry bodies. Wasps are welcome too and they are particularly attracted to my red-hot pokers. Again, I have a bit of an obsession with these and have enough different types to ensure plenty of flowers from spring to the first frosts. Hornets have also been busy this year. They have made regular visits to drink from the pond and on a very hot day a huge specimen repeatedly visited a crevice in the trunk of my rowan tree which I assume to have been the source of some tasty sap.

If I have given the impression that all of my garden visitors this year have been welcome, I am afraid there was one whom I do not wish to meet again. If you are the badger who trashed my strawberry patch, crushing the plants and stamping the berries into the mud – please do not return.