It’s a bright sunny morning. Warm in the sun but a little chilly in the shade. The ground is scattered with helicopters from the sycamore, its leaves beginning to yellow. Around the garden are half a dozen artists, painting or using pastels, to portray aspects of our garden. I admire their hardiness as well as their images.
The marigolds are claiming their kingdom. There is little to compete with them apart from Michaelmas daisies and Japanese anemones. The pond is slowly filling again with the recent rain. Lower temperatures mean precipitation is beating evaporation. In midsummer, with no rain, the level had dropped more than a foot, packing the pond out with the concentration of the underwater hornwort and elodea.
It’s a sombre time of year. Keats may celebrate ‘mellow fruitfulness’ but it is also a time of dying. Herbaceous perennials fade and wilt. They will die to their roots. Spiders must lay their eggs before the chill kills them off. For the deciduous trees, autumn is a prelude to dormancy. Scatter seeds, dispense with leaves, which no longer pay their way, and head for shut down. Our days are getting shorter, the nights closing in. At the end of the month, we revert to GMT, and it will be dark by 5 pm. Good for astronomers, if not for spiders.
It’s been a bad year for insects. Few butterflies over the months, and I’ve hardly seen a ladybird. Drought and temperatures close to 40 degrees killed most of them off. Few small birds too, heat and drought have affected them badly. I reckon we’ll have fewer tadpoles come the spring. Frogs leave the pond in early summer, and many will have succumbed in the heat, along with those a year or two older. This is the price of climate change, the gradual heating up of the world due to our excessive use of fossil fuels.
On one of our display doors, I spot a garden crucifix spider (Araneus diadematus). Often called the garden spider, which I think is a poor name. Yes, it is the most common spider, but it sounds like you don’t really know its name. It has a white cross on its abdomen, hence the ‘crucifix’ addition.
The one I have spotted is wrapping a honey bee in silk. This, I find surprising. A honey bee is as big as the spider and it has a sting, so you would think the spider would steer clear. But no, once the bee sticks on the glutinous web, its frantic efforts to escape bring on the spider. It bites the trapped bee which paralyses it, and so the prey, still alive, can be wrapped in silk to make a later meal.
Nature is cruel, as we witness here and in our pond, where the water boatman and dragonfly larvae prey on tadpoles and daphnia. There are predators everywhere. Brilliantly shown currently on TV in Frozen Planet II, where orcas trap penguins and a pack of wolves bring down a buffalo. But here, too, on a smaller scale in our garden.
Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher in 5th/6th century BCE, said: All life lives off life. Or as someone said in the garden this morning when I pointed out the spider: we all have to eat.
Foliage plants have come to the fore. The euonymus shrub by the compost bins shines out its yellow and green leaves. Its neighbour, the euphorbia, preens its umbrella leafage.