Skip navigation

Wildlife Garden blog

2 Posts tagged with the wild tag

Spring is marching on and keeping us all very busy. As the season progresses colour becomes more varied and the changes are noticed daily - its an exciting time!.


The dates of first flowers are early compared to last year's late Spring: trees in blossom this month - several of which first flowered in March - included Wild cherry (Prunus avium), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), bird cherry (Prunus padus), apple (Malus domestica), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and last week - also earlier than in previous years - elder (Sambucus nigra).

1. Wildlife%20Garden_09042014-473[1] (Custom).JPG

Apple blossom, Malus domestica, from the 'Brownlees Russett' variety in the Wildlife Garden

© Jonathan Jackson


On the ground the variety of texture, scent and colour is changing even more dramatically, especially in woodland areas, which are now bright with whites: sweet woodruff (Galium odorata), wild garlic (Allium ursinum), greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea); blues: bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), bugle (Ajuga reptans), wood speedwell (Veronica montana); and yellows: a few primroses and celendines remain with the more recent flowering of yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon); and, of course, the deep pink of red campion (Silene dioica) as well as grasses wood millet (Milium effusum), false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) and more.


While in water, the delicate flowers of bogbean float daintily in the upper pond...


2. Wildlife%20Garden_09042014-383[1] (Custom).JPG

Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata
© Jonathan Jackson


But the star of April is undoubtedly cowslip. In grassland areas cowslips have provided a long season - a few were spotted in flower on 25 February; ten days earlier than the first cowslip flower last year -  and there has been a succession ever since.


3.. april-01_01 cowslips (Custom).JPG

Cowslip, Primula veris
© Derek Adams


Cowslips were once a common sight throughout April and May on chalk downland, and in meadows and pastures as well as hedge banks and railway embankments throughout downland areas of Britain.


4. (Custom).JPG

Cowslip on Wye National Nature Reserve
© Natural England


But although now sadly a rare sight generally, cowslips are still plentiful on nature reserves such as Wye NNR managed by Natural England and there are many conservation projects encouraging the return of cowslips to their former habitats…


maggies easter and cowslips 033 (Custom).jpg

Cowslips in a restored meadow on the north downs in Kent this week.
© Peta Rudduck


And, some say they are returning to road sides and motorway embankments. In gardens once established they will reward you by continuing to spread both vegetatively and by seed. Our own chalk downland and pond-side meadow habitats have been crowded with cowslips all month.


New Image cowslips (Custom).JPG

Chalk downland, with cowslips, in the Garden.

© Jonathan Jackson


And there are still a few in bud in our meadow where the flowering has been delayed due to recent grazing (at the end of March our sheep were here for a short visit, to graze the too-lush grasses in the meadow).


6. DSC_0227 sheep by Sue (Custom).JPG

March grazing in the meadow
© Sue Snell


In rural areas cowslips were traditionally harvested to make wine which was also taken medicinally. They are rich in nectar and, in former times when cowslips were a common sight, children would pick flowers and sip the nectar. Here in our Wildlife Garden, the nectar is strictly for the bees and early butterflies including the brimstone. Cowslip is also the food plant of the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary. Other insects benefit, including pollen beetles...


Wildlife%20Garden_18-03-2014-042[1] (Custom).JPG

A pollen beetle, Meligethes aeneus, pays a visit to a cowslip flower.
© Jonathan Jackson


Once cowslips are in bloom I feel that spring is really, truly here and although I want these beautiful flowers to last a little longer, there are now many seed heads amongst the blooms. Not so radiantly yellow, but it's good news for next year.


140510_0007 (Custom).jpg

Cowslip seed heads

© Jonathan Jackson


You can find out more about cowslips in folklore from Roy Vickery. If you are out and about this weekend and spot the violets of bluebells rather than the yellows of cowslips, do join in with the Museum's survey.


And at the end of May visit us here in the Garden and discover more about Britain's most common flower, the stinging nettle. Nettle Weekend is 31 May to 1 June. More on that soon...




With the Wildlife Garden opening earlier this week and our first event of the year due to happen this Saturday 6 April, Larissa has been looking around the garden for the first signs of Spring ...


"Sitting at my desk in the Wildlife Garden shed, I heard something scratching outside. Thinking the squirrels were raiding the bird seed, I crept to the window to catch them at it. No squirrels, then the sound came again but from under my feet. It was the foxes confirming our suspicions they had taken up residence under the shed again.


Despite the chilly weather persisting, the garden is slowly beginning to wake up around us with the first bluebells, daffodils, primroses and cowslips appearing, and the blackthorn beginning to blossom.


NHM1 (1).jpg

Wild daffodils in the Wildlife Garden were some of the first to flower this year.

© Derek Adams


The leaves of the wild garlic have carpeted the woodland in one area while, in another, dog’s mercury is making an appearance.



A squirrel climbs a tree above the wild garlic covering the woodland floor.

© Jonathan Jackson

However, this is a poor show compared to last year when around this time wood anemone, marsh marigold, wood sorrel, and wild cherry amongst others were all in flower.



A bumblebee enjoys the nectar from a hybrid bluebell in 2012. We haven't spotted many bumblebees yet this year.

©  Jonathan Jackson  


Although the sleepy frogs and toads are yet to wake up, the birds are gathering supplies for their nests. This wren spent a whole day meticulously constructing a nest only for it to be blown down the next day.




This wren spent the whole day building a nest precariously balanced on the shed porch ... Unfortunately the wind blew down its efforts the next day!

© Larissa Cooper

It’s not just the wrens who have been busy. The moorhens have been spotted carefully choosing dry leaves and pieces of reed before carrying their finds into their nest box. The box is so full - as you can see from the picture below - there is scarcely space for the moorhens themselves. The moorhens are not the only birds on the pond preparing for spring. Over the last couple of weeks, a group of mallards have also been visiting the garden on a daily basis.



You can see just how full the moorhen nest box is!

© Larissa Cooper


The staff and volunteers in the garden are just as active with preparations for the opening of the garden at the beginning of April. The laid hedges have all had a trim to encourage bushy growth which will benefit both the birds looking to nest and the small mammals which hide in the base of the hedge.



One of our laid hedges trimmed and ready for spring growth.

© Larissa Cooper


In some of the hedges we have added new whips (the name given to nursery-grown small trees and hedge plants) to fill a few gaps. Elder and wild cherry have been added to the hedge bordering the Darwin centre courtyard and the Wildlife Garden and will be allowed to mature within the hedgerow providing nectar for insects and food for birds.


I love this time of year, if only it was a little warmer…"


Thank you Larissa

Watch out for details of our Spring Wildlife and other events on our web page.