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Lots to enjoy on a stroll around the Gardens of Easton Lodge near Great Dunmow





Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham covers your fortnightly look at nature around Bishop’s Stortford...

Following a particularly warm and bright Sunday, I rose on the Monday to grey skies and more of the constant chilly north easterlies, so not boding well for my Nature Notes trip to the Gardens of Easton Lodge. I let the morning warm up a little before arriving around 11.30am and found I had the gardens all to myself, apart from a couple of volunteers. Perfect for a good search to see what I could find.

I headed to the wonderful Italian garden with its ornate balustrade around a wonderful pond. A check for Odonata species (dragonflies and damselflies) showed there to be none on the wing, but a few common newts were noted swimming. The water lilies were in full bloom and looked superb.

Bombus lucorum, the White-tailed Bumblebee
Bombus lucorum, the White-tailed Bumblebee

Around the perimeter of this area, many plant species were in bloom with helianthemum (rock rose) and geranium species attracting several bee species, mainly Bombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee.

I sat on the stone steps to enjoy my picnic whilst hoping for a break in the clouds and a little sunshine to break through, but, sadly, this didn’t occur.

Once completed, I set off to the walled garden where another array of flowering plants greeted my arrival. Chives were in full flower and were a magnet for bees. Here, more Bombus lucorum along with Apis mellifera (western honeybee,) Bombus pratorum (early bumblebee) and Bombus lapidarius (red-tailed bumblebee).

Apis melifera, the Western honeybee
Apis melifera, the Western honeybee

Nearby, a verbascum was standing upright and upon the pale green and slightly velvety leaves was an army of caterpillars, the mullein moth, whose larval foodplant is indeed verbascum. These cats were quite small, but in a few weeks will have doubled in size whilst the plant will have been decimated by these voracious larvae.

I wandered on, noting dahlias just coming through whilst some fruit trees (peach or nectarine) were showing signs of leaf curl. More bees around the vegetable garden before I left this habitat and strolled down the expansive lawn towards the lake at the bottom of the garden.

I wandered off to check cow parsley and nettle patches, noting a solitary hoverfly, a Syrphus ribesii, that clearly did not want its portrait taken as it disappeared before I could focus. I had my macro lens on the camera and had set it to flash settings as I expected to find insects hiding in the darker areas of the vegetation. Glad I did as I encountered a large crane fly, Tipula vernalis, hiding away out of the cold breeze. The flashlight illuminated the insect well.

Down the right-hand side of the lawn is a small pond area with gravel and a red wooden footbridge. I checked the irises here for signs of damselflies, mainly their exoskeletons, called an exuvia, that they emerge from after they have left the water and crawled up the stems of plants to emerge and make their maiden flight. None were apparent so I headed off to the Japanese garden.

Irises
Irises

Nearby, a good stand of foxgloves with bee species in attendance and three species of ladybirds were also found here, including the common seven-spot ladybird and the regularly-found 14-spot ladybird. The latter is a tiny yellow and black beetle no more than 3-4mm in length. The last species was the invasive harlequin beetle. There are more than 25 ladybird species in the UK and many can be tricky to identify as they can be very variable in colour and the quantity of spots they show. The 14-spot ladybird is yellow with black dots and streaks and has the impossible taxonomic name Propylea quatuordecimpunctata.

A large rhododendron was in marvellous flower near to the private fishing lake. At this point I was joined by Jill, treasurer and trustee of the gardens. We sauntered up the other side of the lawn. A small moth bobbed up and down in front of us before settling nearby for a few photos. This was one of the longhorn species of micro moth, Nemophora degeerella, showing stunning colours as well as unfeasibly long antennae. A common moth to be found at this time of year, usually “dancing” under overhanging branches of mature deciduous trees, as it was here.

Also here were plenty of buttercups so I went in search of a particular beetle species that is a pollen feeder and frequently found, often in large numbers, inside the flowerheads of this particular plant. Not too long before I came across several. Byturus ochraceus, one of the fruitworm beetle species.

Byturus ochraceus, a fruitworm beetle in a Buttercup
Byturus ochraceus, a fruitworm beetle in a Buttercup

As is to be expected in June, birds are hard to see as they are busy feeding hungry chicks in the nest, but I noted great spotted woodpecker calling along with singing blackcap and blackbird. Wrens darted around woodpiles, wood pigeons and rooks overhead and a greenfinch wheezed from just outside the walled garden.

I headed back to the pond in the vain hope of, at last, finding some damselflies, but it was not to be. A stand of colourful irises in full bloom caught my eye as I tried for more bee photos. Lily of the valley looked very healthy with its long stems with hanging flowers whilst alliums were just opening up like exploding fireworks.

Lily of the valley
Lily of the valley

One final wander around and I concluded that I had recorded plenty for this article and headed back to the car. In the car park, wonderful colours supplied by cow parsley, much red campion and some blood red roses.

Pond in the Italian garden
Pond in the Italian garden

The reason I had paid a visit to these marvellous gardens is that Sunday June 18 is their open day. The gardens will be open from 11am-5pm with last entry at 4pm. There will be plenty of nature-based stands as well as an expert biologist leading bug hunts and checking the ponds for aquatic invertebrates. Woodwind of Stortford will be performing and all visitors will be free to wander the whole area, including the impressive walled garden.

14-spot ladybird
14-spot ladybird

Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.eastonlodge.co.uk and www.Trybooking.com. Well worth dropping in for a peaceful few hours with refreshments served from the café, including homemade cakes.​​​​​​

Foxgloves
Foxgloves

I normally run owl pellet dissection sessions and bug hunts at this wonderful event but, sadly, it clashes with Little Hadham Open Gardens. Tickets, priced £8, are available from the village hall where there will be refreshments available all day. A map comes with the tickets detailing each open garden, of which there are 11. These include one that is part of the National Garden Scheme, one where beehives will be on show and the owners will be happy to talk to those visiting about their bees and one where yours truly will be showing the moths trapped the night before and explaining the planning behind my garden to attract and protect insect species. I shall also be handing out small pots of seeds that will germinate into flowers that are important for bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Geranium
Geranium

Do pop in and say hello as it would be great to see the garden full. Hopefully a sunny day so plenty will be on show. With a bit of careful planning, both events could be taken in making for a veritable overload of horticulture and nature.

Japanese garden
Japanese garden
Mullein moth caterpillar feeding upon verbascum
Mullein moth caterpillar feeding upon verbascum
Nemophora degeerella
Nemophora degeerella
Red-tailed bumblebee
Red-tailed bumblebee
Rhododendron in flower
Rhododendron in flower
Rock rose
Rock rose
Small pond and bridge feature
Small pond and bridge feature
The walled garden
The walled garden
Tipula vernalis, a crane fly species
Tipula vernalis, a crane fly species
Water lilies
Water lilies

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