Category Archives: Plants

Homage to the Dandelion

The grass and fields and hedgerows around where I live are awash with dandelions –

– they resist any attempt to eradicate them, keep the pesticide industry going almost single-handed and seem to mock us as they pop up on our manicured lawns, flaunting their bright yellow petals.

The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ or ‘lion’s tooth’ , used to describe the marked indentations along the edges of the leaves and the ragged appearance of the tips of the petals.

But why do we so begrudge their presence?

Every part of this plant can be used:

the roots can be ground and roasted to make a caffeine free beverage, although more palatable to my mind are dandelion and burdock (or dandelion wine for an extra kick!)  made from the petals. The leaves can be blanched or sauteed in a similar way to spinach and added to salads and soups; the dandelion is also used in herbal medicine for liver infections or as a diuretic. It is even used as a dye, although the resultant slightly muddy brown colour (called ‘caramel’ by the more charitable) is disappointing, given the original glorious yellow of the petals.

Its colour alone would persuade me to rebrand it! It’s a flower! Let’s cherish it! We love the colour yellow! All the best things in life are yellow! Gold! Saffron! Buttercups! Butter! Egg yolks! Sunshine! Submarines!

Think how many songs have the colour yellow in their titles – you should be able to think of at least TEN. This is one of my favourites

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICkWjdQuK7Q

My dad was never a gardener. His idea of keeping the place tidy was to sally forth, scythe in hand, once the grass was knee high.  Dandelions thrived! And so did lots of other pretty things like these:

And so did dandelion clocks – the fascinating, spherical seed heads which appear after the flowers and use the wind (or excited little children ! – the hour is however many puffs it takes you to blow all the seeds off the ‘clock) to scatter those seeds to the four corners of the garden, producing masses more dandelions the next year! So Dad was nurturing a wild life garden long before our present  ‘crop’ (oh!dear!) of TV celebrity gardeners advocated them!

But the real reason they are there is for these little guys:

……….the army of pollinators, buzzing busily from bloom to bloom – they don’t care whether we think it’s a weed or a flower!

‘When it’s Spring again, I’ll bring again tulips from Amsterdam.’

When it’s Spring again I’ll bring again
Tulips from Amsterdam
With a heart that’s true I’ll give to you
Tulips from Amsterdam
I can’t wait until the day you fill
These eager arms of mine
Like the windmill keeps on turning
That’s how my heart keeps on yearning
For the day I know we can
Share these tulips from Amsterdam

Ah……  Max Bygraves knew the way to a woman’s heart!

Tulips…….they herald the spring time  like no other flower – with their beautiful forms and colours, unmistakeable bowl shaped petals and bright primary colours.

These days growers have developed so many varieties the choice is dizzying, and even the ‘not very horticulturally minded’ recognise a tulip! It has become a favourite in English gardens, parks and floral displays up and down the land. Of course, tulips are synonymous with Holland and horticulture there is big business:

A few wikifacts:

  • Holland has a 44% share of the worldwide trade in floricultural products, making it the dominant global supplier of flowers and flower products. Some 77% of all flower bulbs traded worldwide come from the Netherlands, the majority of which are tulips. 40% of the trade in 2015 was cut flowers and flower buds.
  • The sector is the number 1 exporter to the world for live trees, plants, bulbs, roots and cut flowers.
  • The sector is the number 3 exporter in nutritional horticulture products.
  • Of the approximately 1,800 new plant varieties that enter the European market each year, 65% originate in the Netherlands. In addition, Dutch breeders account for more than 35% of all applications for community plant variety rights.
  • The Dutch are one of the world’s largest exporter of seeds: the exports of seeds amounted to € 3.1 billion in 2014.
  • In 2014 the Netherlands was the world’s second largest exporter (in value) of fresh vegetables. The Netherlands exported vegetables with a market value of € 7 billion.

       

The Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands are a paradise for tulip  lovers – as their website boasts: ‘Keukenhof, the best day out among the flowers! There are more than 7 million bulbs in bloom this spring, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips. A unique and unforgettable experience!

Besides the spacious 32 hectares of flowers you can enjoy the spectacular flower shows, surprising inspirational gardens, unique artwork and wonderful events. Do not miss the Tulpomania exhibition in the Juliana Pavilion.’

At Keukenhof they recognise the importance of engaging with the next generation. Their website states:

‘Keukenhof is also one big party for children. They will have a blast with the treasure hunt, petting farm, maze and the playground.’

Who can resist? Don’t forget your camera!

Istria – or Slovenia and Croatia to you and me.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Istrian Peninsula – and learnt a lot!  The Peninsula looks like a triangular pennant suspended in the Adriatic just below Trieste.  A horizontal strip of land at the top of the triangle now forms part of Slovenia and the rest belongs to Croatia. Our visit included some of the towns along the West coast of Istria from  Portorož down to Pula, with its stunning amphitheatre,  at the southern tip of the triangle.

istriamap

So first  stop – Portorož (Port of Roses) This turned out to be an attractive strip of  hotels stretching in a ribbon along the seafront – no ‘beach’ as such, more pebbles and ladders straight down into the water – would bathers disappear without trace?  Well, no, the water only seemed to be waist deep in most places so perfectly safe, if a bit chilly!

Portorož has been established as a health spa since the late 19th century and boasts some fine architecture – one example of this is the Palace Hotel, built around 1912 in what was known then as the Austrian Riviera. It was extensively renovated around 2008 but retains its magnificent facade and is testimony to the popularity of the area as a health resort back in the day.  There is a real Art Deco vibe about the place and lots of magnificent black and white photographs on the hotel walls illustrate the grandeur of a bygone era, which inspired me to take some sepia photos on my walk along the sea front towards Piran.

Every hotel in Istria has a Wellness Centre, indeed Slovenians and Croatians place a lot of emphasis on healthy living. On our tour I struck lucky every time – my room was right next door to the Wellness Centre! This meant that, unlike other guests who had to make their way along endless hotel corridors and into and out of lifts dressed in their fluffy white hotel robes to get to these facilities, I only had to pop out of my room and round the corner and there it all was – the plunge pool, the sun terrace, the jacuzzi, the  salt water swimming pool and all the wondrous treatments on offer – like mud baths, Thai massage with myriad combinations of lovely infused oils, facials – etc!!

As a linguist I was also interested in trying to pick up some phrases in Slovenian and Croatian – and was encouraged by the fact that all the road signs were in Slovenian or Croatian first and then Italian, and sometimes German too.  As I speak Spanish, the hop over to Italian is not so far – but the next hop over to Slovenian proved more of a chasm – didn’t get much of a toe hold, although the girl welcoming us in to dinner tried to teach me a few things – ‘dobro jutro’ (good morning) ‘dobra večer’ (good evening) ‘volim te’ (I love you !! – that should come in handy!) ‘hvala ti’ (thank you)  ‘molim’ (please) ‘račun molim’ (the bill please) and on the hotel television I even caught an episode of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don dubbed in Croatian.  Even so, progress was slow!!

Back to being a tourist.

Piran is a small town at the top of the Istrian Peninsula. Its links with Italy through the salt trade are evident. On the walk into the town we came across some curious buildings which turned out to be disused salt warehouses, now being used as exhibition spaces and the like.  

Views out to sea from the city walls were beautiful and the town itself is very picturesque.

 

 

 

 

 

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We were taken on a trip to the salt pans and a museum where we learnt how the salt panners lived and worked.

           

         

Our next trip was to Groznjan, which is inland. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and sample some delicious truffles and mistletoe brandy – not sure about the brandy! We also learned that Istria has several symbols – one is the goat, one is the dolphin and ……the other will come to me in a second!

 

The climate as you go further south turns more Mediterranean, with lots of vineyards and olive trees and for the first week of our holiday the weather was pleasantly warm – around 25º. But things changed dramatically en route to our second destination of Poreč – in fact, there was a terrific storm and when we got to the hotel they were busy mopping up – leaks had sprung everywhere – outside the main entrance a little man in waterproofs was standing knee deep in water, pumping out and inside they were juggling guests whose rooms had water running down the walls – mops and buckets everywhere!

Built along the lines of a giant Butlins holiday camp – I don’t think these hotels will stand the test of time – more ‘Lego’ in construction – definitely the cheap and cheerful end of the market.  This conglomeration was built around several lagoons just outside the town of Poreč, which, once the hordes of weekend visitors had died down, felt much more welcoming. As luck would have it, the storm (which was bad enough to make the national television news) had abated by the next day and we were able to see a  medieval fair which they had postponed – so ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ as they say.

Pula, in the far south of the peninsula, boasts a magnificent amphitheatre, with the usual gruesome history of gladiators and blood and gore. Nowadays, the arena is used as an open air concert venue, attracting the greats of the musical world such as Andrea Bocelli, Norah Jones, Tom Jones and José Carreras.  Personally, I found the Roman artifacts in the museum below the arena every bit as interesting as the arena itself.

We barely had time to see Pula and even in late September, towards the end of the holiday season it was very busy. The Venetian influence is evident in its buildings and I loved the little alley ways down to the water’s edge which seemed to drop straight into the sea. Definitely a place to go back to.

    

Butterfly, Flutter By

As well as the natural attractions of the landscape of the Wye Valley, at Symonds Yat  there is a butterfly zoo.  A tiny piece of steamy, tropical forest, recreated indoors where conditions are simulated to mimic the natural habitat of tropical butterflies.

Palms and vines compete for space with lilies and milkweed, as these beautiful creatures flit from plant to eye catching plant, looking for food.

In the wild a lot of tropical butterflies eat rotting fruit (just the job!) and here in the zoo the staff had thoughtfully put out platefuls of overripe bananas – yum!

You can see why the striking creature below is  called the Owl Butterfly.

The markings on its hind wings provide it with excellent camouflage.

In fact, it is said to be more moth-like in behaviour as it is crepuscular i.e. active at dawn and dusk, whereas butterflies would normally be seen in the daytime – here it was certainly the most static and easiest to photograph!

The Blue Morpho, native to South and Central America, proved the most elusive, hardly settling at all. It was the biggest butterfly in the collection and in the wild can have a wing span of between 13 to 20 centimetres. It was a stunning sight, and the iridescence of its shimmering blue wings is said to confuse its predators as it has the effect of making it appear and reappear as the light catches them.

morpho1

The Malachite, which ranges from the southern United States down to Peru, Argentina and Bolivia, is much smaller, with a wing span of 8 to 10 centimetres.

The next butterfly is I THINK! a Wood Nymph. I say ‘think’ because, although we were given some pictures to help us identify them, a butterfly can look very different with its wings folded as opposed to outspread! And another confusing thing is that some appear to be known by several names – this being a case in point – is it a Wood Nymph or a Paper Kite? Or something else entirely!

What is interesting is that the Wood Nymph, from South East Asia,  feeds on milkweed, those tiny yellow and red flowers, and they contain toxins. The butterfly fills up on the toxins to put would be predators off eating it for supper – clever, eh?!

For such fragile creatures, some of the butterflies seemed to be carrying damaged wings  – this swallow tail, for example,

damage

or, even more noticeable, this Owl butterfly. 

I don’t know to what extent this would affect them, perhaps they’re tougher than they look!

It was a joy to be so close to these lovely creatures and to see the colour and variety, not only of the butterflies themselves, but also the sweet shop colours of the exuberant, outsize tropical vegetation that they call home.

 

 

I am a Tree Hugger – but if I could be a tree…….

It’s starting to feel like Spring and what better way to celebrate than getting out into the fresh air to hug some trees! Nature has a way of persuading us to leave the comfort of a warm sofa and brave the elements – the first sighting of Spring lambs, for example – aahhh!! ,

and the promise of some stunning country views and the trees – there they are again – they just seem to weather anything winter throws at them.

     onDiag

roots1  stream2

After Spring comes Summer, for some of us a chance to sit under a shady tree and do a spot of fishing,

   

     

while others prefer to  sit outside  and contemplate the trees in the far distance, or silhouetted against a glorious sunset.

 

 

 

 

treeline

Photography makes you more observant – it’s a fact! You start to see everything in a new light (no pun intended!) – new angles, interesting juxtapositions, the way shadows fall, including your own! and how colours  interact.   Old hands tell you to look carefully, but not just in front of you. No! Look up!  Look down!  Look around! And this is never more important than when you are photographing a tree. Some have exposed roots at your feet, then there’s the lacework of leaves swaying overhead. Some are laden with nuts and some have nests tucked away in the upper branches. I always feel I should be able to identify more trees. Can you identify a tree from its bark? or its shape in the distance?

   

Ah, but what if I were a tree? Autumn would be the season I would enjoy most. Bedecked in that stunning autumn foliage  – it must be like getting ready to go to the ball – and to choose from that palette of  bronzes, gingers, rusts, corals, ochres and russets. I don’t understand those evergreens – they just refuse to get dressed up !

  

leaves

Trees are there for us all – human or not – kids climb them, big cats use them as pantries, small cats stalk along their branches to hunt birds (as if!),  people sit under their shady branches,  lovers etch their initials in the bark, they provide us humans with food, timber to build a house, firewood to keep us warm – and for the animal kingdom it’s much the same – cover, habitat, stores to see them through hibernation.  Quite apart from all that, trees are beautiful to look at at:  whether it’s a solitary oak spreading its branches in the middle of a field or a whole forest, dense and mysterious and a bit scary. Dense forests have been the setting for fairy tales and stories with speaking trees, trees with magic powers, trees that walk and scare us to death! Very often you can look at part of a tree and see in it someone or something – and some are just so old and gnarled they seem to have their life story written into the bark for us to read.

What do you see here?

dragon

 

And so to Winter. Trees make an excellent subject to photograph in winter – the images you capture can be really atmospheric – bare branches, stark against the winter sky. Even a fallen tree has a beauty to it – the way it is slowly but inescapably being reclaimed by lichen, forest ferns and fungus and decomposing back into the soil that once nurtured it.

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There is such a variety of trees.  Gardeners say there is a tree to suit any garden, whatever climate it is subject to and whatever size it is – so no excuse! we could all have one!

 

And if I were a tree?  Maybe an oak but I can’t really be a tree so I’ll do the next best thing and plant one.

A Walk with Mu’Doggy

Thick fog today – but I struck out with my camera anyway.

Despite the title, I have no dog – it’s more Me + Mud + Fog – you see, as I walked across the fields it was muddy and foggy – combine the two and you have ‘mudoggy’ (never mind! you had to be there!)

At least it was bright fog – the sun was a definite presence, despite not being able to break through the blanket of fog.I was making my way to Drover’s Wood, in Upper Breinton, a tiny wood established in 2001 by the Woodland Trust.

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Fog always makes the countryside seem more mysterious and intriguing. Take this orchard, for example

orchard

or this monster oak tree –

monster   monster2

– difficult to appreciate its size here, but  it towered above me like something out of a fairytale. At the beginning of my walk, trees loomed out of the fog one by one to mark the path

path

and along the hedgerow, brightening up the gloom were some ‘umble’ umbels

umbel4   umbel2

Inside Drovers Wood the well trodden path had turned into a quagmire

muddyPath     P1100807

P1100809

and I didn’t come across another living soul, even though the wood is popular with dog walkers (probably all tucked up at home with a mug of cocoa!)

If you follow the most direct route back to the main road you come across this wonderful weeping willow – in the summer it forms a giant green umbrella over the footpath. Today it looked just as magnificent – from one side the curtain of bare branches just brushing the ground, and from the other its silhouette against the winter sky with another tree just visible behind it – slightly eerie but still spectacular.

willow1 willow2

willow3

willowB&W

Once on the main road I was back to civilization – cars with their headlights on (don’t know if we are the only place blanketed in fog today -I think it’s fairly localized, but I’m sure there will be reports later of traffic accidents caused by the fog – usually are!

Ah, is that the bus I see in the distance?

bus

I wonder if he’ll let me on with these muddy boots?

boots

What does winter mean to you?

       

Just brought the garden brolly inside, stacked up the garden chairs and swept the patio clean of leaves.

The plum tree looks stark and bare, most of the flower pots are empty  and the barbecue in the corner has become a storage unit again.

         

 

Looking on the bright side  ……………..

I’ve just spotted the basket of jams and pickles I made ready for winter teatimes, so I’ll light the candles by the fire, make some  crumpets and open one of those jars of plum jam I just came across. And while I have my tea I can look out at the last of the colour – the berries, the winter jasmine and the leaves on that nice pear tree.

                  

    

I know its only just November but I can do it all again in December – and January – and February –  I’ve got 18 jars of jam left – anyone for crumpets?

Butterflies at Symonds Yat

What to do on a chilly, blustery Wednesday in April whilst waiting for  the British summer to arrive?

I know! A trip to the butterfly centre at Symonds Yat! Inside the butterfly house the atmosphere and temperature are carefully controlled and these beautiful creatures flit from plant to plant and chase each other around their tropical paradise.

The plants are not quite Kew Gardens dimensions but they set the scene

fronds

purple   leaves

spike1

     tangle1    tiger1

red2 trumpet4

trunk3

yellow    whiteStar

and whilst studying the plants you start to notice the brilliantly camouflaged butterflies settled motionless on them – difficult to tell the scale from these photos but these butterflies ranged in width, with wings outspread, from 2-3 inches to 5-6 inches.

blue&black eye1

white&black

Here are a few of the images from my trip.

From velvety black to iridescent blue – I don’t know the names of these lovely butterflies but I’m sure the lepidopterists amongst you will.

black1 blue&black

blueCloseUp2      eye

orange&black2     silhouette

whiteSpotted   whiteSpotted5

whiteSpotted3    whiteSpotted7

 

March Sunshine – time to take stock of the garden

15 º !!  The late March sunshine has drawn me outside for a stroll round the garden. Things are coming to life – well, some of them are! My garden is small – just as well, as I think the novelty would soon wear off if I had acres to cope with. What I have in the front garden is a motley collection of shrubs  such as this mahonia – we’ve come to an uneasy truce – it has agreed not to get out of hand if I agree not to try and dig it up – whatever I do to it makes no difference, anyway – it is indestructible – I quite like it really – it provides some winter colour.

mahonia

and this plant – cant remember it’s name, but it’s supposed to smell of chocolate. It doesn’t, but it has nice yellow flowers so it can stay.

chocplant

Along the side which edges the public footpath I have a giant currant bush which deflects errant footballs , litter and the many dogs which come this way on their daily walks. And last autumn I put a few mixed daff bulbs in which have been flowering away for weeks now. daff

But it’s the back garden where I conduct my annual experiments – it’s a bit of a sun trap and secluded enough for me to sit out and read the newspaper or just  admire my horticultural handiwork in the summer. I don’t have much luck with the herbs I grow in pots as you can see :

mint   rosemary   sage

– especially rosemary, but this year it is thriving – look at this – it’s even flowering!

The chives are making a comeback and so is the fennel

fennel

chivesand I can rely on the permanent residents to provide interest whilst the newcomers get established.

To provide some seclusion and added height my son put a sturdy trellis up along one fence, but because the things I grow along it have to be in pots I’ve had varying degrees of success. I’ve tried clematis which I find quite a contrary species – since doing some research I have discovered the best ones to choose for exposed positions are the little bell shaped ones – I have one so I need more of the same.

The rather exquisite Princess Di clematis with waxy red flowers,  bought at a local garden show,  gave up almost straight away, then came back, then disappeared again (seemed as unpredictable as its namesake)  and then there’s the one with glorious white flowers like dinner plates – the plant re emerges every spring but only produces a couple of flowers now – perhaps I need to nurture it more!

I found a local clematis grower with hundreds of varieties like the evergreen winter- flowering armandii, I had great plans for it – was going to let it weave itself up through the plum tree, which it did to be fair, but I discovered it didn’t like exposed, windy conditions and it, too, eventually perished – a shame as it was very different from the rest! These pictures are from previous summers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   2012EvergreenInFlowerOct10

But back to March. What else is stirring?

It’s exciting walking round my little patch, spying something else just coming back to life – the climbing rose, rose72bought the year before last), the photinia , drastically pruned  last autumn a quarter of its original size, but flourishing,

photFlowers

the honeysuckle  – well, impossible to kill that off , patio pots of aubretia, and the ubiquitous nasturtium,

           aubretia      honeysuckle

 purpleClemTrellis      photinia

And then there’s the prospect of filling my little veg patch with carrots, onions, strawberries, tomatoes and peas.

At the very bottom of my plot there are two fruit trees – a plum and a pear – which always provide me with enough fruit to make jam and pickle for the following winter, but the patch of ground they inhabit is a forgotten bit of land and plants which don’t thrive in the main garden tend to get transplanted down there – and you know what? most of them start to flourish – out of defiance, I think!! such as this euphorbia, which got uprooted when a new fence was put in out the back. Now that’s the sort of plant I like!