There is more in the garden than flowers…

1-Disturbed toad

Our hose drips where it is attached to the outside tap and the corner stays damp so that underneath it was very overgrown and needed a good spring weeding.  However, more than the plants had appreciated the dampness and a large common toad (Bufo bufo) had made the corner his home and even constructed a comfortable tunnel under a large stone.

1-Toad in hand

He did not object to being handled and posed peacefully for a close-up shot.  It makes me wonder how often he has done this for us.  My husband likes the toads and I think they are now trained to come to hand when he discovers one.

1-Marbled newt

Beside the toad was a marbled newt ( Triturus marmoratus) who was also enjoying the damp spot.  We often see the newts in the garden or in the old well.

1-Marbled newt with crest

Next to appear were much younger newts and for the first time I saw one (the one on the left) that still had its crest.  The males have a crest during the aquatic stage but this will gradually disappear as they proceed into the terrestrial stage and begin to become more coloured.

1-Juvenile Western whip snake, Hierophis viridiflavus

The other day I needed a stepping stone to use to get through the border to my bee hotel so I looked for a suitable one at the bottom of the garden.  When the stone was lifted there were two young snakes curled up together underneath it but they soon made off.  The above photograph is a set-up.  The stone was replaced and lifted again the next day but this time only one of the snakes was underneath it.   The snake is a juvenile Western whip snake, (Hierophis viridiflavus), they are quite common around here but are non-venomous and not aggressive.  We have lots of wall lizards and these provide an easy food source for the snakes.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera

My bee orchid is still doing well and I was quite excited when I thought another orchid might be growing in the garden.

1-Bud Orobanch amethystea

First a shoot like an asparagus appeared.

1-Bud growing Oroba amethystea

Then the bud started to open.

1-IMG_0376.Orobanche amethystea

I thought the flowerlets looked like orchids.  Wrong!  There are similarities but there is no central single lip which is a common feature of orchids.  This is a new plant to me – it is an Orobanche amythystea.  These are not orchids but plants that do not produce chlorophyll and obtain their nutrition by parasitising other plants.  Orobanche amythystea can use various plants as a substrate including wild carrot, sea holly and ivy.  I do hope mine is a parasite of my ivy!  I cannot see where the roots of the Orobache are reaching under the soil but I’d like to think it is joining me in my never ending battle with invading ivy.

The flowers will eventually form seeds but these seeds will be unable to germinate unless they find themselves near roots of their host.  There are many different species and they can become problematic if the host plant is an arable crop.  In France some of the other species can infect tobacco and legumes.

Anthophora plumipes male

Yesterday morning, just after 10 o’clock my husband called me to see the bee he had spotted asleep on a Hydrangea bud.  It was an Anthophora plumipes male.  They are extremely fast moving bees so it was fun to snap some shots of him while he was fast asleep and motionless.

Flowers and trees make up the backbone of a garden but it is all the unplanned arrivals, plant and animal, that make gardens so special.


45 thoughts on “There is more in the garden than flowers…

  1. Lovely post… and you finished with a “Plumpie”… a lovely bee… but I’ve never seen one that stationary!!
    But my favourite is the Marbled Newt… really exotic in colour…
    and the expression on the toad’s mug…
    “I really should start asking a fee for modelling for these two!!”


  2. Hi Amelia, lovely post as always, I so agree with your last sentence, it is the essence of what makes gardens and gardening so very brilliant! Well done on the snake picture, they give me the complete irrational hebe jeebies, I wish they didn’t, as in your photo, that one looks very interesting.


    1. I thought – lovely flower – before I read about what it was and its family. At least this one doesn’t seem to be detrimental to the environment, and it is quite pretty in a special way. Amelia


  3. I do admire your photographs of the flora and fauna in your garden. We are enjoying the lizards in our garden right now, but I cannot seem to get a decent photo. I think I am too impatient.


    1. Sometimes our lizards decide to sunbathe and remain stationary for quite a long time. They are comic characters and I’m sure they must provide a lot of amusement for you even though they are not good at posing. Amelia


  4. What a fabulous collection of beasties in the garden. I’ve got newt envy! BTW, if your toad is really big, it’s female.

    The broomrape is Common Broomrape Orobanche minor. I happened to see Amethyst Broomrape on the weekend while out with my local botany club, so we had quite a discussion about it. Its only hosts are Eryngium spp, and the ones we saw were very clearly associated with E. campestre. It is very easy to mistake O. minor for O. amethystea because O. minor is so variable, and is often not clearly associated with any host. They both have reddish stigma lobes and can have more or less purple on the corollas. Very tricky to distinguish the two species. Basically, if it is not growing right next to a Field Eryngo, it isn’t Amethyst Broomrape.


    1. I have checked up and O. amethystea has other hosts including Hedera helix. I have had a root around (sorry about that) near it and the only plant apart from grass that I can see is ivy. It is a parasite on vetch in Israel and I have also seen Daucus quoted as a host so there is a difference of opinion here on possible hosts. I do agree that they all seem to be very variable and difficult to identify better to stay with the genus level like bees. Amelia


  5. It’s like a Gerald Durrel garden – ‘My Family and Other Animals’! And I love your bee orchid. I’ve only ever seen one – several years ago here on the South Downs. I do like snakes but wish they would change their diet. Yours eat lizards which would sadden me and mine eat frogs, which really saddens me. Dave


    1. It probably gets worse as they get older and bigger and get onto the little furry things like voles and mice. I seem to be able to excuse snakes as perhaps I’ve never seen them enjoying their dinner. I have actually been pondering lately on why certain people become interested and passionate about certain things like birds or butterflies which leaves others indifferent. Amelia


  6. Some great photos of the newts and the snake. I also love to find little creatures in the garden – they somehow put it all into context. Fortunately we haven’t got a snake in the rockery this year (grass snakes here mostly) – at least I haven’t seen any – and the lizards can relax!


  7. You are so right Amelia, our gardens would be dead places without all the animals that live in them. I didn’t realise that the Western Whip snake ate lizards; we have them here although I don’t often see them. How do they kill the lizards? I think they might it snails too (or perhaps that’s the lizards) as I find lots of empty shells as well as far to many live ones this year!


    1. Like most snakes they are not too delicate in their eating habits so the lizard would be grasped between its jaws and swallowed whole. They would not take a snail out of its shell. The young ones would start off on live insects and work up to lizards. Amelia


        1. There are a lot of parasitic worms that use snails as a host so that could finish them off. What else might eat them without breaking their shells, I’m not sure but it is an interesting question.


  8. You even have a zoo in your garden, or should I say reptile park. Amazing, but that snake would have frightened me, dangerous or not. I admire your orchid. They are supposed to be difficult to grow in a garden, not to say impossible, espescially if they come from the wild.


    1. I’ve always admired snakes but I have never lived where there have been dangerous snakes. I don’t count adders (Vipera berus) as they are not aggressive. We have had two different types of orchids in the garden but they have just grown up spontaneously so I am very lucky. Amelia


    1. It’s one of our favourites too. It is very slow and does not object to being handled. As the garden matures there are even more moist places for them and they have prospered. Amelia


    1. We have lots of birds that visit the garden and nearby and I often think you would be able to photograph them and tell us lots about them. They don’t let me come near them with a camera though. Amelia


    1. There are actually two. One was weighted down with forget-me-nots and nearly got pulled out with them. It has been bent by their weight and so not such a good subject for a photograph. I’m not sure if they come up from the same plant or self seed as I did not mark the one last year properly. I must mark them better this year. Amelia


  9. Fascinating as always, Amelia. When we lived in Kent and in Berkshire we would see Toothwort growing under hedges, probably hazel. Toothwort is another parasitic chlorophyll-lacking plant and part of the Broomrape family. It’s less showy than Broomrape but I always enjoyed finding this “ghostly” plant pushing up through the ground in the spring. Philip


  10. I love finding wildlife in the garden! Oh, EXCEPT for snakes! Even harmless ones just don’t sit well with me. Call it a silly fear, but it would keep me from the garden! I’m lucky and so glad there aren’t any snakes in my garden here in Ireland! 🙂


    1. Seemingly, they are usually self-fertilised but anyhow mine is now sporting healthy looking seed pods. If they go to maturity I’ll try placing the seeds at the base of the original plant (and marking the place!) and also try germinating in a pot just for fun. They might grow on a kitchen window, who knows. Amelia


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