Derek – Thursday 30th May 2019
It’s warm in the garden with intermittent sunshine. The overriding topic is water. There’s been little rain in May, and April was a dry month too. Over the spring months the pond has dropped four inches. All the barrels at the back of the centre staging are empty. The metre cube is about a third full. We have two fullish barrels behind it, another by the gazebo and that is it.
Plants in small pots die first. We throw dried remnants on the compost heap. The hydrangea cuttings in small pots have failed too. And half the plants at the front, by the children’s play area, in the tyres, are past saving. And it isn’t even June. We are being visited by Britain in Bloom in July. That’s six weeks’ time.
The fear is there won’t be much to show.
Work is due to begin on the main site over our fence, supposedly on Monday. Once building begins, they’ll be on site for two years. They will have water and hopefully will be keen to keep in with the local community. So, when they are actually there and with running water, we can request water assistance to keep our garden going.
There’s a single red poppy in the wild flowerbed. Startlingly red, the colour of fresh blood. You can see why it is used as a symbol for the war dead. I am reminded of all those poppies that were in the moat of the Tower of London, and the waste of war. There’s a single cornflower too, blue as ink. And lots of hedge mustard, some of it five feet or more tall, with its tiny yellow four-petalled flowers. The deep yellow California poppies go on and on.
The pond irises are in bloom, with floppy ears like basset hounds. The leaves are long, slim and pointed, rising out of the water about two feet. On them, we see two dragonfly husks. These are the cases that the adult crawls out of. Last year we thought they were the nymphs themselves and it took a few hours for us to realise they were empty skins, with all the detail of the body ridges and limbs. The adult emerges from the depth of the pond and climbs the leaf. Over several hours it crawls out and hangs on the husk. At that point, it is very vulnerable as it cannot fly off for about 12 hours, as the new skin must harden and the wings dry.
Crawling out of the skin (known as the cuticle) combines two processes. The hard cuticle functions as a skeleton, supporting the insect and as the attachment for muscles. But with an exoskeleton, the insect can only grow by periodically shedding the cuticle and forming a new one, a process known as ecdysis. This has happened to the two dragonflies who have shed their cuticles, but this is also the final step in the insects’ metamorphosis when the adults emerge with wings.
The two husks are different. One is similar to the one we saw last year (a photo of it is in our book *Summertime*). The body is longish and slim. Looking it up at home, we find it is the case of a hawker dragonfly. The other case is stubby, shorter than the other. It is the case of the broad bodied chaser dragonfly.
Valerian (*Valerian officianalis*) is growing by the mid gate and in the small wild flowerbed near the pond. Not yet in flower, the plant is so green, not yet affected by the drought, spreading wide and five feet high in places. Only outdone by the prodigious buddleia which is two to three feet higher.
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