Not what you think.

I spent the afternoon surrounded by sparkling water; water lilies and reed warblers, sunlight dancing on ripples and dragon flies that seemed as big as birds.

A buzzard swooped out of a tree, mewling mewling and flew low over the water. Buzzards don’t fish and I realised that this bulky, noisy bird was in fact an osprey. In this quiet, out of the way lake an osprey was hunting. Perfect.

But the lake was once a football field, drained and filled in to provide work for the unemployed during the depression of the 1930s (so the information board said).

The lovely lake is at Bonfol in Switzerland and it is also the site of one of the worst dumps of toxic chemicals in Europe.

Bonfol is right on the very, very edge of Switzerland, right up against the French border. It is also very close to the city of Basel, which is famous for its chemical factories and life saving pharmaceutical companies. In the 1960s and 1970s those companies dumped massive amounts of toxic waste in metal barrels in a hole in the ground left after digging out clay for a pottery works. The barrels were simply covered in earth and left to fester and leak and even explode.

When the full horror of what was under the fields was realised in the 21st century, an unbelievably expensive clean up operation had to be undertaken. It was so bad that robots had to dig out the chemicals, as it was too dangerous for any human to go close. A vast dome was built over the dump site in which the work could be undertaken.

I first saw the gigantic white dome in the middle of the woods from a nearby hillside. I naively thought it was something to do with marking the hundred years after WW1, as this was in 2014 and the nearby area had been fought over in this war: but no. Interestingly, the companies responsible for this potentially deadly dump did not pay for the colossal clean up until 2000. Local government and Greenpeace managed to exert sufficient pressure on the polluters and the complicated and expensive clean up finally began.

I take a wonderful drug everyday developed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company and I am very grateful for it; but I would not put a toe in the water of this lake and I would not share the fish caught by the osprey on this sparkling afternoon.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/dumping-ground_bonfol-s-toxic-waste-landfill/42441854?utm_campaign=teaser-in-channel&utm_content=o&utm_medium=display&utm_source=swissinfoch

Summertime

The summer rolls on.

The mornings are cool and dry and the warm pine trees smell like Greece. Cans of water are lugged to the vegetables and the roses sulk at not getting their fair share.

The fly door slams.

More tea is taken out to the shade. The butterflies wake up and the buddleia draws them in with heady perfume and endless nectar. The lazy flap of a fritillary butterfly speeds up as it swerves a predatory hornet.

The cat climbs onto the roof of the shed to survey her domain.

A pink petunia flower is caught in the net of a spider and pirouettes in the breeze. It continues to dance and turn when the wind drops and high above, a spider laboriously cuts the flower free of the threads and the pink skirts swirls slowly down to the ground.

The breeze returns and the wind chimes ripple . No one shouts, no mowers, blowers or saws disturb the summer air.

What my garden really thinks of me!

These gloves were drying out on some gladioli canes and I suddenly thought my garden might be telling me something!

It has been very hot, it has been very dry, it has been watered with bath water and then last night it got shredded by a hail storm!

I think it maybe in a bad mood, but hopefully it won’t last and the water ( once the hail has melted!) will put a smile back on its green face!

Wild cheetahs to return to India for first time since 1952 | India | The Guardian

We all need good news and this is a wonderful initiative which I really hope works – not just for the cheetahs, but for the whole ecosystem that will be protected in order for them to survive..

Officials announce eight cats will be brought from Namibia in effort to reintroduce animal to its former habitat
— Read on www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/21/wild-cheetahs-to-return-to-india-for-first-time-since-1952

How to stay cool and save water.

It has been brutally hot and it is going to get worse, so while we wait and pray for our leaders to wake up to the reality of climate change, what can we do personally to stay cool?

1. Wear light clothes. Loose cotton dresses are much cooler than shorts as the air can move around your waist. Men look great in kaftans, which are what men wear in the hottest countries, for good reason!

3. Get up EARLY when it is cool and open every window to get the cool morning air in. Use a room fan to blow cool air into the room from the window. Warm air rises, so open any window that you can up high and suck cool air in from the basement or lower rooms. As soon as the temperature outside is warmer than inside, close and shutter to keep the cooled air in.

2. Close your windows and keep your shutters or curtains closed, when the sun is out. Open the windows only when the temperature outside is cooler than inside. Buy a little indoor outdoor thermometer to check.

4. Don’t put the oven on! Don’t cook anything that needs a long time. When you have cooked put the hot pan outside to stop it heating up the kitchen. Couscous is brilliant, as it needs just a small kettle of boiling water to cook it and left over couscous is great spiced up and eaten cold.

5. The simplest way to get cool is to wet your arms and face and sit in front of the fan. Soaking a t-shirt, wringing it out and then wearing it will keep you cool for ages. Wetted top sheet will help you sleep if it is really bad. Sitting with your feet in a basin of cold water helps swollen ankles .

5. Air conditioning is the obvious choice for many, but it eats electricity and that drives the problems that make the world hotter, so if you can: avoid.

Long term cooling solutions involve planting many many more shady trees . Trees can drop the temperature by 10 degrees and are of course beautiful. Painting roofs white make a big difference and not laying black tarmac everywhere makes urban areas more liveable. Fountains that people can splash in and walk through are wonderful.

Homes and offices need to lose all that glass that makes living in them literally like living in a green house. The fashion for endless glass is insane. Every new home I see with huge glass windows, has to quickly spend a fortune on blinds and curtains that are never never opened. A wall, is much cooler!!

Cooling Devices.

A) a bottle of water left over night in the freezer and then sat in your lap.

B) a gel neck scarf. The gel swells up in water over night and then cools your neck all day as you wear it. It isn’t wet on the skin, you can get all sorts of attractive patterns and it is definitely the best cheap cooling device.

C) a snap towel. I don’t know how these little towels work, but they certainly do. You wet the little towel a bit, shake it to make it snap and put it on your head or neck – very cool!

D) a neck fan. This is my latest acquisition. It looks like a pair of hipster ear phones around your neck. It charges with a usb lead and works for hours blowing air round your face. It is very light and brilliant when you are moving around.

Saving Water.

High temperatures generally mean a lack of rain and water shortages. To keep your plants alive, reuse your washing water!!

Bowls of water, that have washed dishes or hands, can be collected in a pail and used to water everything. Plants do not mind a bit of detergent/soap – in fact they love it!

Collecting shower water is difficult, but bath water is easy to collect if your bathroom is upstairs. Every evening, after a bath , I lower a pump connected to a hose pipe into the bath and pump the water straight out onto the vegetable patch or into a water butt for use later. I use bubble bath and the veg are fine! You need one person to keep an eye on the pump upstairs to turn off the electricity when the bath is empty.

I am sure many of you know all of these tricks, but this blog might just contain a new idea to keep you cool and keep your garden blooming in the dry and the heat.

Essentially cute!

There isn’t any creature much cuter than a squirrel!

I saw my first red squirrels in Formby which is a wonderfully unexpected area of sand dunes, pine trees and sea very close to my childhood home in Liverpool. The story of their survival is the first wild life story that I really remember. Grey squirrels are an American import that has apparently driven out the native red squirrel from most of England.

However, as with most stories of alien invasion, it is more complex than it first appears. Apparently grey squirrels don’t compete for the red squirrel’s food, as the red squirrel is much more dependent on the seeds from pine trees, but greys can eat all manner of foods ( especially peanuts from bird feeders!). Unfortunately they carry a disease which is transmutable to red squirrels and this is the real reason why reds do not thrive in the presence of grey squirrels.

The first place I really watched red squirrels up close was in the central parks of Almaty in Kazakhstan. The length of the tufts on their ears made me laugh out loud, as they seemed improbably transgressively punk, leaping amongst the carefully managed trees.

The photos here are from just over the border in Germany, but red squirrels are at home here in France and I once saw a buzzard pluck one from a branch and fly away with the little helpless little bundle in our local woods.

Before you get too dewy eyed about red squirrels, it is thought that the fashion for red squirrel fur collars was responsible for introducing leprosy into Europe during the Middle Ages. The scourge of leprosy has been tracked down to squirrel furs imported from Scandinavia into Britain , but it may also have arisen in many other places before colonials exported it to the Americas and beyond.

For me .

This post is for me and for any one else who is worried that the world has gone mad.

The lilies smell incredible and have withstood lashing rain and hail.

The view is dawn this morning.

Flaming June

This month has roared by. The start was so beautiful it took my breath away .

Not my garden!

Peonies and sweet peas, rose gardens laden with perfume and delphiniums the colours of Greek seas.

Mornings absolutely crammed with astounding moths and then such heat that we had to close the shutters and imagine there was no outside and read scratchy novels inside.

Then the storms cleared the polluted air and we cracked open the windows again. Suddenly the lawn was fissured and brown, the peonies were long gone and the roses were fried, but the everlasting Sweetpea explosively scrambling over everything. The red currants and gooseberries were ripe to falling and the little fig tree, I was sure had died, put out green leaves.

The month isn’t over . The rain has revived so much, and June flames on !

Story of the night

One of the reasons I like moths are their names. The names are redolent of Victorian parsonages , where I imagine bewhiskered vicars pouring over newly caught specimens and allowing themselves a rare flight of fancy, as they coin a name for their new find.

The practice still continues. A recently named moth is a type of rustic moth is called Clancy’s Rustic after Mr Clancy, who first identified it in Britain . I caught this moth in my light trap in France last year and was impressed by the gold outline of the diagnostic kidney mark on its wing.

Other moths also have wonderfully distinctive names. My current favourites are the Uncertain and the Red- necked footman. The pinky freckled moth is rather romantically called the Maiden’s Blush and the flashy spotted moth is a Scarlet Tiger. There is a dark Grey Dagger, an Old Lady , a Gypsy Moth, an Elephant Hawk moth and a Silver Cloud, to name but a few.

It is too hot to go out today so I think I will concoct a story involving an old lady with a grey dagger who fools the red necked footman into allowing the uncertain, blushing maiden to meet the scarlet tiger, before disappearing on a silver cloud pursued by a random elephant riding a huge hawk.

I think that I might have been out in the sun too much – roll on the night!

No Mow May – retrospective.

I stopped mowing my lawn as soon as I had one.

We once rented part of a very old bake house that belonged to Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire. We were responsible for a dank patch of grass next to the village pond. In the first no mow spring, early purple orchids came up.

We moved to Wales and eventually put down a deposit on a bungalow on the edge of a venerable town. Masses of ox- eye daisies came up along with red campion and dandelions . We were not yet brave enough to let them all grow, but soon learnt that you could mow paths through your “meadow” and this semblance of order kept the neighbours happy.

In the tropical countries in which we subsequently lived, lawns were rare and generally composed of tough mat grasses that had never been meadowlands, but not cutting the grass still allowed bigger ant hills to flourish and ant loving birds to feed.

In France we bought a flat slab of lawn surrounded by low maintenance evergreens and chicken wire. Our cat was deeply unimpressed, as there was no where to hide and absolutely no life to hunt. We agreed with him and took to diligent neglect or re-wilding, as it is more fashionably called.

Birch trees, ash, dogwood, spindle and wild privet self seeded and in a corner we let them all grow. In the grass; hawks bit, eye bright, ladies smock, bugle, daisies and dandelions, sedges and plantains, fox and cubs, primroses and cowslips, teasels, evening primroses and mulleins appeared in their seasons. We collected local wild seeds and threw them in for good measure. The ox eye daisies and the hay rattle never took, like wise the foxgloves, but then it all depends of what type of soil you have and when you eventually do cut the grass.

If you never cut the grass, then bushes and finally trees will take over. We allowed this happen in a part of the garden and now that part is full of nesting birds and mice and hedgehogs. The cats now have so many places to hunt, sun and to hide that they are happy to stay safe in our garden away from the traffic and the thundering computer driven tractors.

There is no down side to not mowing your lawn. You have more time to enjoy your garden, the garden is infinitely quieter and the difference to the amount of life that will live with you in your garden, is absolutely staggering .

No Mow May, No Mow June and a bit of mowing if you don’t want a forest glade. What could be easier!???

Hart’s Tongue

These beautiful ferns stay green all through the darkest months of winter and when they make new leaves in the spring, the slowly uncurling fronds look like the soft tongue of a female deer – a hart.

I decided that the world had gone to hell in a hand basket when I saw a venerable old pub in the Cotswolds had changed its sign from that of a deer, to that of a cheesy looking gold heart and of course the spelling of the name was changed from the Golden Hart to the Golden Heart.

I have since realised that there are other things more worthy of getting angry about in the world and so I enjoy watching the ferns unfurl in the late spring and imagining that a real deer might even lick the rain from their glossy surface.

Bird’s nests and White Helleborines – orchids in the woods.

This uninspiring orchid may not be colourful, but it is extraordinary.

The bird’s nest orchid Neottia nidus – avis gets its name from the tatty shape of the root ball that looks like a bird’s nest . It gets all its nutrients from a fungal association with the soil and it needs no green chlorophyll at all. It makes no leaves and the flower comes straight up out of the earth in the late spring.

If the spike is obstructed when it is about to emerge, it can apparently flower and set seed underground, which is not fully understood and all the more disturbing for it!

It can be pollinated by a range of insects including very small creatures that can crawl over the flowers and carry away the pollen.

It is often found ( as this one was) close to the flowering stems of the large white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium which also grow under beech trees in leaf litter.

The bird’s nest orchid and the large white helleborine both need nutrients from fungus that can only grow in deep humous rich leaf litter and so can sometimes be found in the same beech woods. The helleborine has green leaves and stem, but can tolerate deep shade, because of the extra food it’s fungal association gives it. The pure white flowers seem not open fully, but that is an illusion . Once one starts to look for them, at this time of year, their white petals flare up under the dark canopy of the beech trees and they can be surprisingly common.

Orchids in the grass.

I spent the day in a meadow which flowers above a roaring Swiss motorway and the grass was studded with orchids. Only rich countries can divert a motorway under such a wonderful habitat; but the wealth that paid for the diversion has been created by the very trade and the traffic beneath it and so one is struck once again by the seesaw of destruction and construction that is modern life.

So I ignored the sound of the traffic and revelled in the orchids above. The wonderful military orchids were just over and their seed spears showed where they had flowered just weeks before. However, the grass was now jewelled with the lipstick pink spikes of pyramid orchids, so bright they fluoresced in the sunshine. The first painted lady butterflies flew amongst them but refused to settle for a photograph.

We knew there were other orchids here, but missed them in the riot of colour of the red bartsia and the blue spiked speedwell. Just when we weren’t looking, or our eyes were turned to the side, we saw the little bee orchids.

Their flowers imitate the female bees to which the male bees are irresistibly drawn. Instead of bee copulation, the bee gets an undignified deelybopper of orchid pollen stuck on his head, which he then unwittingly carries to the next bee impersonating orchid and pollination takes place.

These orchids are small but beautiful and remarkably formed: a bit like Switzerland really!

Cats locked at home to save rare birds.

This article is in French about German cats and in the spirit of internationalism and Catdom I paraphrase it!

In one Southern German town cats have to stay indoors for months. They are not allowed out to stop them eating the rare crested lark during its breeding season.

I love cats and birds, who is right?!!

Insolite. Bade-Wurtemberg : un passereau menacé, les chats confinés !
— Read on www.dna.fr/insolite/2022/05/18/bade-wurtemberg-un-passereau-menace-les-chats-confines

It’s Columbine time.

The wild columbines in my garden are in their full glory.

I collected a few handfuls of seeds from plants in the forest on the ridge between my village and the border with Switzerland, some years ago. I chose a variety of colours, but they are all on the wild pallet of purple and pink.

Over the years they have self seeded in the shady parts of the garden and the variety of colours is amazing. Every year I try and photograph them and am always dissatisfied with the result. The flowers are down ward pointing and it seems impossible to capture their beauty and delicacy.

Some of the flowers have double and triple whorls of petals and I think their variation would have inspired Gregor Mendel to unlock the secrets of genetic variation in his famous monastic garden.

All types of bees visit the flowers . Here is a fat carpenter bee looking for nectar.

The bumble bees bite into the spurs of the flowers to reach the nectar faster and the next bees use the easy access too. You can see the bite holes in this picture.

The name columbine come from the Latin for dove and the shy down turned flower is supposed to look like a ring of doves’ heads.

Like all of the most beautiful things in life, they are transient. The warm weather will see them pollinated quickly and soon the patio will be painted with the bright confetti of their multicoloured, fallen petals.

For a sore back.

Long Live The Weeds
by Theodore Roethke

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm! –
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marked by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, look, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

Calendar for your mouthful of the world.

I came across a wonderful article describing how the Japanese seasons are separated in to five day micro seasons, after ancient Chinese segments adapted for the Japanese climate. The segments are such marvellously subtle slices from the time when deer shed their antlers to when the bears go into their dens . From when the wheat germinates under the snow, to when the first cherry blossom opens.

It made me think about a calendar for my corner of the world from when Madame Charlotte’s walnut tree finally breaks into leaf ( third week of May ) to when the snails climb up the plant stalks ( driest time in late August) . There is the time when the first crickets sing at night, to the thickest dew on the ladies mantle leaves; the full moon when the moths don’t fly ( tonight !) to the time when the first slugs devour new the iris flowers ( tomorrow!)

I think I will work on my own 72 divisions, but it can’t be done right now as this season is undeniably the busiest of them all. It can wait until the garden seems asleep and there is nothing else to do. In the meantime, take a look at this wonderful list and maybe start to plan your own version for your own corner of the world, or maybe wait until the winter when the ice forms!

Happy Rikka.

https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00124/

Changes ( for Carol)

Nothing stays the same and at this time of year the changes are so rapid that a blink and it seems as if you are in another country.

The blossom comes, the blackbirds sing ,

The leaves come and the blackbirds sing.

The grasses flower and the blackbirds sing,

Crickets puncture the night , after the blackbird sings:

And the first bat scissors the dusk,

And tomorrow the blackbird still sings .

On the waiting windowsill

I was inspired to photograph my window sill today by Flighty at flightplot.Wordpress.com . So here it is : two overwintered geraniums, two small trays of seedlings and an absurd sunflower .

The sunflower found its way from the bird seed in to the vegetable seedling trays and very soon out grew the chilli seedlings that were supposed to be germinating there. I have given it its own pot for fun and have been astonished by how much it has grown. I turn it every day and soon it will be taller than the window frame.

Of course it should be in the garden and that is the tension of this time of year. I want to plant everything out, but it is still cool at night and if I go too early , the seedlings will be stunted or worse still, frosted by the ice saints. Saint Sophia’s feast day is May 15th and it often coincides with a few days of really cold weather in this part of Europe . She is known as Kalt Sophie and can be the last frost of the spring and it isn’t advisable to put anything tender out before this date.

So my window sill is still is groaning under geraniums that have kept me cheerful all winter and flower seedlings ( cosmos) for later on the season and gherkin seedlings for tiny cucumbers harvesting when it is hot .

Two more weeks seems a long time to wait when the sun is shining and my fingers are itching to plant them outdoors. It is such a wonderful time of renewed life . Everything is far from perfect in the world, the news from the Ukraine is appalling and Russia seems to want to start World War Three, so I turn to my laden window sill; to faith in goodness and to the glory of the garden.

Night time

I fall asleep to “Just William “ books. Gentle escapism of the most perfectly dated nature allows me blot out the world and while I sleep, the moths reclaim the night.

The first wonderful specimen is an emperor moth. It is the only European member of a family which is much more wide spread in the tropics. The huge eyes are to scare away birds and other predators and when it flies in the day, it is often mistaken for a butterfly.

The second moth perched on my finger is a purple thorn . It’s Latin name is tetra luna which refers to the four half moon shapes that just catch the light from the window in this shot (at the top edge of the jagged wing.)

The third moth is a peach blossom. The improbable pink blotches on the wings look like the delicately coloured flowers of that fruit tree.

The last moth is most prized because it is new to me. It is called a pine beauty and I had great difficulty in identifying it as I was mistakenly convinced it was a type of swift moth ( due to the way it sits) . Unsurprisingly, it lives in pine trees and it’s gingered, pink appearance apparently allows it to hide in yellowing needles ( though I find that hard to believe!)

So while we sleep, some beautiful things fly free, even if it is just our dreams!