Bald Bush!

This forsythia was the only shrub that existed in my garden when we bought this house and the first spring it flowered magnificently. We took cuttings from it and they all rooted easily.

These daughter plants produced wonderful frills of yellow flowers on every inch of the branches, but the mother plant is now nearly bald of blossom every spring.  We thought we were pruning it at the wrong time, so we pruned in the late spring: no flowers, so we pruned in the winter: no flowers, so we didn’t prune at all: still no flowers!

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So then I wondered what had changed from when we first arrived and I saw the bird table we had place right next to it, which attracts a mob of house sparrows all year round, to eat our left over bread. Obviously the bread was not enough as I remembered I had seen a telltale yellow bud in a sparrow’s beak weeks before. In recompense for all the bread I have shared with them, behind my back they have been systematically stripping the flower buds every year, while we have been foolishly fretting about pruning régimes!

I love feeding the sparrows, so I guess I will just have to learn to love my raggedly parti coloured forsythia bush too!

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The Cavalcade Rolls In.

There is such a longing, a waiting for spring. It starts slow with a little perking of the prickly plants that have survived all winter like the house leeks and then it bursts into unexpected life with the tiny fizz bombs of steppe irises.

 

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Splutters into primroses and then gets unexpectedly reticent with loveliest of  flowers the wild ladies’smock that feathers the lawn with palest  purple and is almost too impossibly delicate to capture in a photo.

 

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And suddenly spring is in full flower and the cavalcade of blossom is pouring out in flowering cherry and daffodils and heady scented hyacinths and when night falls it is completely star frosted clear. The brightest uncomplicated blue fades down to egg shell and pale yellow at the world’s edge and the first bat swoops out to slice the dark.

I am Irish!

To Grandmother Christine Fitzpatrick and Grandfather Joseph Manning and the lovely ladies of the Irish Embassy in Paris :  go raibh maith agat, my first words of Irish.

I just got my full Irish passport and I can now sleep easily in my French home knowing I am still a European citizen and all the nationalistic nonsense of Brexit can’t make me homeless!

First cherry blossom.

The very first  wild cherry trees are blossoming . The white flowers are tiny and the mass of buds look like pearls against the dark branches.

In the forest oxslips are pushing up . This plant was growing on the rim of a badger latrine. I am always amused by badgers’ domesticity. They are very careful about where they do their business and favour dry banks where they can scrabble about without getting muddy and then move to a new site when the first gets too untidy.

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Up in the tree tops crows were mobbing a raven and the racket was wonderfully raucous. As we watched the commotion another large bird was flushed up . At first I thought it was a second  raven, but as it sat apart from the row, hunched and muscular we realised we were watching a female goshawk and I thought of “H. Is for Hawk” and felt privileged to be in her magnificent presence.

The fate of Ash trees.

A disease called Ash die back has been sweeping Europe and slowly killing these lovely trees. Here on the Swiss French border foresters have decided to cut out all the diseased trees and the result is devastating .  It is not the first time a disease has spread into the wrong geographical location and destroyed a whole species. Elm trees were destroyed in Europe and America and this poem by Robert Francis captures the sadness of this loss and the need to look to the future with hope.

many thanks to cimple.life for introducing me to the poetry of Robert Francis.

 

The Fate of Elms

If they are doomed and all that can be done
Should fail, if they must die and disappear
And we must see them dying one by one,
Summer and fall and winter, year by year
Until there comes a summer so bereft
That over river, meadow, pasture height
No last and solitary elm is left
Lifting its leafy wings as if for flight—

Let us not make our grief for them too great
And say we wished that we had gone before,
Making the fate of elms too much our fate,
Seeing the always less and not the more.
Though elms may die, not everything must die:
Not their green memory against our sky.

Robert Francis

LBJ

No, not a new sexual orientation acronym, but little brown jobs: the birds that are hard to tell apart on sight, due to unremarkable plumage.

Chiffchaffs are definitely LBJs , but there is no mistaking their call, the onomatopoeic  “chiff -chaff” simple double note that gives them their name. To German ears they sing “zilpzap”and they have seem to have arrived here in the Alsace this very morning. They winter in Africa and summer in Europe. Redstarts seem to have arrived too along with a smattering of dunnocks.

While we listened a large hare loped out from under the hedge and sat a while on his long haunches, ears up to hear and admire some new sounds of spring and a brimstone butterfly that has survived the winter found a primrose.

It’s all going green!

Under the trees, beside the streams, along the hedges it is all going green. Brown and hazy grey are the colours of winter and it seems weeks and weeks to wait until the trees unfurl their first leaves, but on the ground; in the corners; amongst the beech mast and the pine cones, the seedlings are already marching up!

All my Gardens- part 6 : Brazil – humming birds and highrise.

São Paulo Brazil has about 20 million inhabitants and from my first experience, only one tree.

I could see the tree from my apartment on the fifteenth floor. It was in a school yard a long way down and it was completely dwarfed by the high rises that surrounded it. São Paulo was the most relentlessly urban environment in which I have ever tried to grow a garden and yet a city more in need of green it would be hard to imagine.

When we arrived in our first apartment we stepped over the street children huddled together like puppies under blankets. When I looked out onto the balcony I felt I was falling into the most profound pit I had ever seen, as the earth that should have surrounded the building was being excavated to a terrifying depth, to build the sky scraper next door.

We didn’t stay long.

There were a few more trees near the next apartment we lived in, but they too were dwarfed into insignificance by the dimensions of the buildings.

 

From this second balcony I hung ferns in baskets and tried my best to make a wall of green with ficus trees, crotons and butterfly palms.  Bigonias are native to Brazil and an assortment of types gave colour and leaf shapes to my attempt to block out the view of the city.

Wildlife is more tenacious than we think however, and a feeder soon attracted a spectacular swallow tailed blue humming bird that had swapped a life sipping nectar from blossoms in the topical forest for a city life drinking sugar water from a plastic feeder. The blue grey taneger we had first met eating chilies in our Costa Rican garden appeared again in Brazil on this high rise balcony and even built a nest, as delicate as a wren’s, in an old plant pot. She even laid eggs, but three days of colossal thunderstorms sent apocalyptic lightening and biblical rain across the city and somewhere in the storm she was lost and her eggs were never hatched.

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(I found her photo in an old scrap book)

In our local bar, where we sat at pavement tables shouting above the roar of the traffic, fruit bats picked ripe fruits from the few road side trees. They must have been able to smell when the fruit was ripe and the bats appeared in their hundreds for a few day only hanging clustered like ghouls with their large intelligent canine faces, observing us drinking cold beer far below.

On the edge of Sao Paulo is a wonderful place called Pedra Grande. Before the city grew into the chaotic megalopolis that it is today, an enlighten city father decided to protect the city’s watershed. In order to do this a very large chunk of Atlantic forest around a rock outcrop was spared the axe and to this day Paulistas can walk amongst the real tropical sky scrapers of giant trees and delight in three toed sloths, howler monkeys and magnificent toucans only a short drive from down town. This remnant of paradise was our salvation and we spent each weekend there buried in the deep green and the brilliant colours that make up a tropical forest.

To climb to the top of Pedra Grande is to understand the true shape of the world.

The walker emerges from the shade of the thick forest, scrambles onto the smooth granite boulders and the conurbation of 20 million souls erupts into view. The tens of thousands of sky scrapers bristle up into the smog hazed sky and then slope away into infinity, as the curvature of the planet is revealed in this awful, breathtaking monument to the human ability multiply and to build.

No balcony garden anywhere could compensate for that knowledge.

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