Being in the right place.

I used to steal flowers. There have been times when I have kept a small pair of scissors in my handbag to facilitate a quick snip as I strolled nonchalantly by.

In my defence I never stole prize blooms from tidy gardens, but I could not resist the sprawling rose from the over grown garden; the unappreciated lilac from the building plot; the perfumed  mock orange flowers from the municipal bush; the lavender spike to crush between the passing fingers.

My criminal days are over. After so many years of waiting I have my own garden and I have loaded it with flowers. When I pass other gardens, I admire and walk on, as my hunger for the beauty of flowers has been satisfied .

I rarely pick my own flowers as I know they will last longer in the garden. Now a days I pick flowers as gifts for neighbours and friends or to save a particular beauty from a threatened hail storm.

These flowers were all picked because they were in the wrong place. The everlasting peas had climbed into my neighbour’s apple tree; the Russian sage was sprawling over the lawn; the artemisia was lying over the gladioli; the marigolds were crowding out my new irises; the phlox had fallen over in the rain and the geranium had been broken by a cat.

I don’t have the flower arranging eyes of the clever bloggers who fill vases on a Monday. These were just crammed in a pot; but none of them were stolen and for now they are in just the  right place!

 

 

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Harvesting Starts

It is still high summer, but many vegetables are ready already!

Our vegetable plot is chaotic, nothing is in straight rows and the most obvious thing that we grow are self sown marigolds and wild borage, bowed down with bees. But somehow, some edible plants survive and we have been eating beetroot and beetroot leaf salad, curly kale, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, green cabbage and courgettes that turn into marrows over night. There are endless dishes if green beans and a tray of shallots are drying in the cellar.

The potatoes are ready to dig up when we get the time, but there has been time to locate and tickle up the garlic, that was ready to harvest weeks ago. It has come to no harm in the ground and is now happily, plumply drying in the sun.

Sometimes life seems very good!

An Alsace Day.

Today was a very Alsace day.

Firstly we went to a very small and a very strange museum called the museum of love in the nearby village of Werentzhouse.  In a tiny renovated Alsace house there is an astonishingly rich collection of vintage post cards in albums neatly stacked on wooden shelves. All are connected to love .

There is barely room to open the album, but each one holds a treasure trove of beautiful post cards. I looked at the album of cards made of real human hair, which was slightly creepy, but also very funny and touching.

I also looked at cards sent by French soldiers in the First World War to their sweethearts back home and was amazed by their variety and also the sauciness  of some of them! The ladies explained that they were bought by soldiers in packs of 12 and they built up to tell a story of longing and love, for the shy or the inarticulate. Both world wars are still so close in the Alsace, I couldn’t help wondering how many young men got to send all twelve cards or to experience the effect on the loved one.

Returning home saddle sore from unaccustomed cycling, we decided to try a glass of Auxerrois wine recommended by our next door neighbour. I love all white Alsatian wines, especially the wonderfully perfumed Gewürztraminer  and Pinot Gris, but Auxerrois is a rarity, possibly because it is so hard to say. This wine was a delight. I am going to stop myself burbling wine snob nonsense, but it is light, and full of flavour and perfume. Not much of this variety is grown and often it is blended in to make Pinot Blanc and essential in Crèmant d’Alsace.  I include a photo and a link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI7La0dopZU&feature=sharek

to a you tube clip that gives some sense of the history, complexity and great wines of this little border region, where I have planted my unexpected garden .

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Upcycling – Plastic Bottle Greenhouse 

This is a brilliantly simple way of turning a problem – empty water bottles – into something useful to start seedlings off in the spring, or force tomatoes in cool countries! I am going to try it!

Botanical Adventures

Today Kady (Curation Scholar) had arranged for us to go on a tour of Bethlehem Natural History Museum. The Museum doesn’t have much money but are accomplishing great things. Few institutions are assessing the ecology of the Palestinian Territories, the museum is one of them. Helping institutions like the museum is so important for world conservation.

Detailed assessments of the flora in the area could be incredibly interesting. This is because new data could be compared with ‘Flora Palaestina’. Published in 1966 the texts include a fairly comprehensive distribution atlas, this could be compared with new data. It could help raise the alarm about plants that are in decline. Though so far the museum has worked more on fauna.

The museum has a glasshouse constructed with a timber frame and coated with plastic bottles. It’s very effective and seems pretty similar to the expensive, air filled, plastic coatings. It has…

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Today is beautiful.

Today is so beautiful. I don’t have to go to work, the sun is shining and the garden is bursting with life.

Days like this make me count my blessings and I am acutely aware of how privileged I am .

It is not like this for most people in the world and the natural world is increasingly a luxury that few can afford.  I am also very aware of the great movement of people across Africa who want a better life in Europe where the rains come more regularly, the grass grows lush and green and there are butterflies.

For this they risk appalling journeys across land, risk drowning in the sparkling Mediterranean Sea and are then corralled and often deported to face the same life in  the dry countries where the rain doesn’t fall.

Response to this is difficult and mostly we try to ignore the images and hope somehow the migration will stop and everyone will stay home.

I don’t believe it will, and the real answer has to be in nature, in greening the dry countries; in making countries were people are happy to stay home, to grow food and to raise healthy children.

The Great Green Wall        http://www.greatgreenwall.org/great-green-wall/

seems to be an answer to this huge issue. It is an African lead  initiative to plant trees and to keep back the desert all the way across Northern Africa.

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It is hugely ambitious and utterly wonderful. The greenery will change the climate, rain will come back, food can be grown again and many more people can hopefully enjoy a beautiful day just like today.

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In plain sight.

Sometimes you don’t realise what is right in front of you.

This morning was sunny and still and the garden is feverish with butterflies. Clouds of gate keepers and ringlets were swarming over the wild marjoram flowers; peacocks and red admirals were feeding on the buddlia and a wonderful silver washed fritillary was flouncing from one to the other. I tried so hard to capture them.

This red admiral was still for a moment.

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And this shot gives a tiny taste of the constant flicking of wings over the marjoram

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The fritillary, as befits her rarity, refused to pose and so I gave up and shot pictures of the still, flat plates of wild carrot flowers and when I looked at the shots later, there is the pure white orb spider perfectly camouflaged amongst the tiny petals. Just proving what unexpected beauty there is in total stillness!

Tardigrades: Earth’s unlikely beacon of life that can survive a cosmic catacylsm

Whether it is a supernova or an asteroid impact, should a cosmic calamity strike, it seems there will be at least one form of life left: a tubby, microscopic animal with the appearance of a crumpled hoover bag.

The creatures, known as tardigrades, are staggeringly hardy animals, a millimetre or less in size, with species living in wet conditions that range from mountain tops to chilly ocean waters to moss and lichen on land.

“They can survive incredible conditions – we are talking close to absolute zero, the vacuum of space, exposure to radiation that would kill us, and these things just walk away from it like nothing happened,” said David Sloan, an astrophysicist from the University of Oxford.
Now new research by Sloan and colleagues has shown that the creatures would survive any cosmic disaster that might conceivably be thrown at Earth – a discovery that could have implications elsewhere in the solar system, and beyond.

“There are quite a lot of stars like our sun out there, and about 20% of these stars have an Earth-like planet around them,” said Sloan. “What you then want to ask is if life started on one of these planets, what are the odds that it is still around?”

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers describe how they probed the conundrum by exploring the likelihood of a variety of catastrophes serious enough to wipe out tardigrades on an Earth-like planet, including a nearby supernova, a burst of gamma-rays, and an impact by a large asteroid powerful enough to cause the oceans to boil away.

But the team found that the chances of such events were so remote as to be extremely unlikely – there was little chance of a supernova occurring close enough to an Earth-like planet to kill off the creatures, and it would take an impact from an asteroid or dwarf planet near the mass of Vesta for the oceans to boil. “There are about 17 [asteroids] this big in our solar system, but they are all on sufficient orbits that they will never intersect with us,” said Sloan.

The upshot, he said, was that it was very unlikely any cosmic event would be so catastrophic as to sterilise an Earth-like planet where life, of the sort we know, had got going. “Because [tardigrades] are so hardy it means that events that we are worried about as human beings, and rightly so, certainly wouldn’t concern you if you just considered all life,” said Sloan.

Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, who was not involved in the study said the findings were reassuring for the future of life on Earth.

“It suggests that the complete eradication of life on Earth is extremely unlikely until we get to the point that the sun enlarges and all the oceans boil away,” he said. “Many organisms, in particular animals and bacteria, live in the deep ocean, which the authors show would be unaffected by any conceivable cosmic cataclysm.”

Mark Blaxter, professor of evolutionary genomics at the University of Edinburgh, agreed, adding that there are other organisms have a similar survival strategy to tardigrades. What’s more, he said, there are also organisms that live very deep underground in hot water within continental and under-sea-floor rocks. “Sterilising the planet would have to deal with these too,” he noted.

He also stressed that even tardigrades are not invincible. “[Land-based] tardigrades stay alive in extreme conditions by drying out completely. So if there was no water left … there would be no “live” tardigrades, just dried up ones,” said Blaxter. “And if there was some water left so that the tardigrades could re-animate, if there was no food left they eat algae and fungi – they too would be dead in a couple of weeks.”

Cobb, too, noted that even if the tardigrades were the only survivors, they would face a struggle. “For the tardigrades to inherit the Earth, whatever catastrophe swept over the planet would have to return to normal-ish conditions within a matter of decades at most, or it really could be curtains,” he said.

Guardian Newspaper 14th July 2017.

Monster Mullein

This spectacular monster seeded itself and grew to epic proportions in the vegetable patch. I could have more space for courgettes, but I couldn’t dig it up as the bees swarmed to it was every morning .I like courgettes, but not that much!

Let it go!

When we moved into our home seven years ago, the drive was gravel. I think it must have been regularly sprayed with weed killer to keep it  bare and tidy- so we stopped. We collected handfuls of seeds from local wild flowers in the first  autumn and we threw them on the tidy, dead stones.

A blush of green appeared in the spring. Tiny pinks arrived first

 

IMG_1662.JPGand tentative wild marjoram. Dandelions scrambled yellow and I let them flower for the bees and then seed for the linnets to feed on. Yarrow sprang up eventually and garden lavender even set seed and bushes started to grow.

There is still a bare strip where the car comes in and out of the garage each day, but the rest is a riot of colour and life. Arriving home from work to drive through an explosion of butterflies and a wall of bumble bees is a million times better growling over dead stones and when I wake up in the morning, open my bedroom window and look down, I watch finches picking through seeds and house martins swooping through the insects that have found a home on our drive just because we let it all go!