30 November 2014

Book Review: The Great British Year by Stephen Moss

This book accompanies the 2013 BBC series of the same title and follows the same format. The premise is that each chapter will follow the wildlife of the British Isles through a season.

As always with a BBC book, the photography is stunning. The narrative is also very accessible. BBC books rarely venture beyond introductory level, which can often make them rather boring to read; but this book was very readable and includes lots of interesting facts about the wildlife we are blessed with on our isles. The little facts really make the book for me: from reading that unlike some birds raptors only replace a few feathers at a time throughout the year, to finding out that seabirds can fall into the sea due to exhaustion and become known as 'wrecks'. From finding out that apart from bats, only two British mammals hibernate and they are the common dormouse and the hedgehog, to finding that the grey seals of Britain were the first species to be legally protected anywhere in the world.

This book contains some interesting maps too. They serve to show different aspects throughout the seasons, such as a map of water temperatures around Britain.

There is even a chapter, for those interested, documenting the behind the scenes experiences of the crew behind the cameras. However, I found a more interesting addition to the book being a wildlife resources section. This shows 20 places to watch wildlife in the UK and 40 different types of wildlife to see - from bluebells to cuckoos and is followed by a well compiled index.

This book was much better than I expected it to be and would recommend it to anyone interested in wildlife - whether you know a lot about it or are just starting to become interested - there's something for everyone.

24 November 2014

The Victorians and the case of the dead houseplants

Imagine yourself in the 1800s, Queen Victoria has been on the throne for a few years now. You've probably heard of a chap called Charles Darwin who's book about his jolly in the Beagle has been making the rounds. And you've probably heard of a new-fangled bicycle that allows you to pedal yourself around rather than pushing along with your feet on the ground.

Over the past few years gas lighting has been introduced, first in London and then Preston, Lancashire, but now it's gradually appearing in more homes. You've even recently installed it in your own home - but around this time you've noticed that all of your house plants have been dying.

So, you speak to some of your friends and they've heard that a particular species of plant does well even when all others have died.

Over time you eventually get a name of the plant and find that it's called Aspidistra elatior. This amazing plant can last up to 50 years even with minimal care, but what allows this plant to survive when others die?
By User:Nino Barbieri (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0
To answer that question, we need to ask another. What's in the gas that causes the other plants to die? Researchers found that part of the natural gas included ethylene. As well as being a colorless flammable gas, ethylene is also a plant hormone.

Plants use ethylene for many reasons, but the main two must be for ripening fruit and for the leaf abscission. Ethylene production is increased when a fruits seeds are ripe, but ethylene also increases when a fruit has been wounded; such a bruised or sliced. You may have heard the saying 'one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel' and this refers to that single apple being bruised or wounded in some way. This increases the amount of ethylene, which ripens all the other apples in the barrel - meaning that they go over very quickly!

As I mentioned above, ethylene is also used for leaf abscission. This is seen during autumn when the leafs of broadleaf trees change colour and then drop. The increase of ethylene causes that leaf to drop at this time. But, it doesn't have to be autumn for ethylene to make a plant drop its leaves. However, Aspidistra elatior, also known at the Cast Iron Plant, is unusually tolerant to ethylene.

So when all other house plants where dying due to the ethylene content of the gas used for lighting, the cast iron plant was happy as larry and continued to thrive, thus solving the case.

This made the plant so popular during the Victorian Era, that it's still known for its ethylene tolerance to this day.

Ethylene is just one of a few plant growth regulators. Click the links, ff you'd like to read about Auxin or Gibberellins.

17 November 2014

Beggars Knoll Garden, Wiltshire

This June we went to visit a fascinating garden near Westbury, Wiltshire.I wondered what such a garden would look like as it's near Westbury White Horse and is a very steep area, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

10 November 2014

Rhythm and Blue: Plant Circadian Rhythms

Anyone who's suffered from jet lag will know that circadian rhythms are an important process. But perhaps what you didn't know is that plants are also regulated by a circadian clock - and - that the same receptor is used in both plants and animals.

06 November 2014

In the Garden: Early November

Here are a few photos I've taken in the past few days!

The goodies I bought with my blog award winnings!

A lovely penstemon that recently came in to flower and a weigelia that's looking a bit washed out - but still trying.

Our hibiscus is also trying to flower again, but I'm not sure if these flowers will fully open as the temperature is all over the place at the moment. Last night and today have been particularly cold and it's finally feeling like autumn. To the right is the developing seed head on a clematis that we planted earlier this year.

This year I sowed some nigella seeds and they have performed really well. As well as the main burst of flowers, every few weeks one of the plants seems to come along with another (although very small) flower. I particularly like the seed head as with a little shake a lovely rattling sound it heard - I'm really hoping these will self-seed really well!

Hope you're all enjoying your garden too - even though it's getting colder now.