Scarlet Elf Cup.

Scarlet elf cup is perfectly named. This fungi is pale orange on the outside, vermillion on the inside and as delicately formed as a tiny porcelain bowl. The cups appear at this time of year on fallen twigs, especially hornbeam and it is one of those wonderful species found across continents on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

This group of Sarcoscypha coccinea was found on a wet Sunday walk in the Jura and may well be the varient . When looking this up on the inter web, I found the same story repeated over and over again: children in the Jura were said to eat elf cups on bread and butter and the cups were used to serve schnapps in.   Now hipster wild food foragers and over imaginative chefs have found many bizarre and unappealing ways of serving wild food that would have been better left to the creatures of the forest; but I have never yet been served them as a sandwich filling or used as a glass here in the Jura. It does go to show how the same misinformation is recycled even in the quiet world of natural history and it leads you to wonder how much more prevalent this incestuous repetition must be in the wider world where we all get our information from the web.    Pass the schnapps filled elf cup!!

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Stormy Weather.

It’s National Garden Bird survey weekend (  Jan 27th and 28th ) here in France organised by the LPO and national museum. A few clicks on the computer will log you into the Observatoire des Oiseaux des Jardins website, add a “garden” (like a profile), and key in your data.                                                             http://www.oiseauxdesjardins.fr

This will allow  you to record all the birds that you see in a one hour slot on Saturday or Sunday . This annual  snap shot of the country allows the naturalists to really see the numbers and diversity of the birds that share our gardens with us across they country. This year they are particularly interested in hawfinches, coal tits, and bramblings.

I haven’t seen much of my regular coal tit this year and fear he has simply been blown away in the awful and continuous winds that have battered us this winter. A stocky parrot like hawfinch visited once this year but I think the weather has been too warm for more than the odd brambling to stray south from Scandinavia.

This weekend I did a dry run of observing the birds for a full hour and the hardest thing was actually sitting still and giving my whole attention to birds feeding around the bird table and not allowing myself to be  distracted by the messy kitchen! There were no surprises, but I found that great tits,  when full of peanuts from the feeder, will sit on one tiny black leg to digest their meal and the solitary coal tit is actually three individual birds and that we get up to 11 tree sparrows (with their chocolate cheek markings) who, unlike  their house sparrow neighbours , can hang upside down on a fat ball. I recommend having binoculars, pen and paper and a cup of tea to hand when you start your one hour watch and then you can really enjoy uniterupted peaceful observation of the busy lives of birds.

The wind has brought down so many trees, that I am surprised there are any birds left. When an oak tree came crashing down in the fiercest storm a red squirrel ran across our lawn disoriented and homeless.

B354BDC8-38DD-48CD-B273-505C3646A621 Near our village is a beautiful ephemeral stream . It only runs when the water table is completely full and most of the year the water sinks back into the porous Jurassic limestone and flows underground . After a spell of rainy weather I like to check if it is running, but most often I am disappointed as the rain is absorbed by the grateful forest, leaving nothing  to see.  After the daily déluges of this  winter however, it is finally above the ground, flowing strongly and tumbling clear from one green pool into another, glimsed lovely  between the trees.

There are some compensations for the cloudy skies!

Embrace.

Before my first Christmas in Switzerland I went looking for mistletoe to add to the holy and the ivy of a traditional English winter decoration.

I was living in the suburbs and found ivy easily enough and holly in a nearby copse of trees , but no mistletoe. For me mistletoe is a mystical Druidic thing that loves apples trees, needs a golden scycle to cut it and will inspire strangers to kiss beneath it and is absolutely essential for Christmas.

In the copse  of conifers and hornbeam behind our apartment I found tantalising snippets of mistletoe lying on the ground; solitary twigs of two simple leaves and the odd pale white berry.  I looked up into the trees, searching for the familiar ball shape of a mistletoe plant suspended from a branch, but there was nothing. Maybe someone had been here collecting before me and these leaves were their debris.

Eventually I was reduced to buying an over priced  sprig in a local  florists, but I wondered where they had found it, so far from apple trees.

And then came the New Year storms: howling gales ripping off branches and uprooting whole trees. In the felled conifers were hundreds of little mistletoe plants, living their parasitic lives amongst the thick evergreen branches quite hidden to my ignorant eyes. It had never said in my English botany books that mistletoe lived in pine trees and yet here was the abundant proof, littered on the forest floor.

This week in France, the storms came again and the woods are crashed with fallen limbs and boughs, but I was still amazed to see the mistletoe in the unexpected embrace of the felled pine tree. Such odd, but comfortable bed fellows!

All my Gardens part 7 : Zambia .

A77E0D1E-4FB5-4EC7-B121-BAC78324D5BCIn my memory Zambia was soft dust, jacaranda trees, chameleons and a black and white cat.

We took a job in Africa to escape the soul crushing megalopolis of Sao Paulo  in Brazil. It was like moving from Mars to the moon. We still had work and a home and books, but nothing else was the same.

Our little African house came with a tiny garden of overhanging bougainvilleas around enough lawn to sling a hammock across and a patio with a rusting metal table and chairs, behind a lattice work of alternate bricks held up by a tenacious and magnificent jasmine plant.

We lived in the capital , but even  in the city there were stars such I had never seen since camping in Costa Rica and the heavens seemed very close indeed. Every Saturday we could hear beautiful music and pick up trucks passed by crammed with traditionally dressed Zambians singing. Eventually I understood that these were funerals.

There was a small vegetable garden and the bright orange soil splashed the whitewashed wall after the rains. We tried hard to grow things, but despite the sun and the rains nothing flourished and we began to understand how infertile tropical soils can be.

Amongst the pepper plants we found a chameleon. Watching it was like regarding the inhabitants of another planet as it’s golf ball eyes rotated to watch us slowly and its pincher hands  clasped and climbed in an hallucinary dream.

Bonkers the cat was obsessed with the chameleons. He owed his life to my worry about snakes and spiders. I had insisted that a Cat would be essential to protect us and so he appeared to keep us safe. I asked if anyone had a cat with kittens and if so could I have a short haired, female, black cat, if possible. A month later a black and white, long haired male kitten was given to me in an ornate bird cage. He was small enough to sit in my hand and we fell in love.

Bonkers ran up curtains, fell off and broke his leg. He burnt his whiskers on the embaula. He crawled into the engine of a car and got badly run over. Our extraordinary Zambian vet brought him back from the brink over and over again and Bonkers the Magnificent survived .

There were excellent market gardens around Lusaka and trays of bedding lobilia, zinnias , begonias and candy tuft could be bought to bring a bygone  suburban England to this lovely, lush country.

We walked to work each day and the enormous road side trees carefully planted for beauty rained down purple, gold and cherry coloured petals onto the quiet side walks.

In our garden the jasmine was loaded with so many flowers for a few months that it pulled down the wall and we could reach the avocados and mango’s shining in the foliage beyond, while Bonkers stalked the chameleons and the singing trucks drove by.

 

If any one is bored on a cold Sunday these are parts 1-6 of All my Gardens:

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

All my Gardens-Part5 England and almonds.

All my Gardens -Part 4: Costa Rica and the big world.

All my Gardens – part 3: Wild Wales.

All my Gardens: part 2 Garsington Manor and beyond.

In Cold Time (All my gardens :part 1)

 

 

 

The Glowing Branches of Life .

After continuous winter rain, when all seems flattened and sodden, lichen glows almost unearthly in the gloom.

Lichen is an extraordinary composite creature made up of an algae or Cyanobacteria and a fungi living together in harmony. The algae can photosynthesis and make carbohydrates from the weakest sun and these feed the fungi, which in turn provides a protective home for the algae and a way to trap the water which they both need.

Lichen can grow on bare rock, on tree trunks on twigs and statues, it can grow in ancient forests and gravelly deserts and has even been taken into space and back with no ill effects.

There are 20,000 known species of this communal  creature, that does no harm at all to the medium on which it grows. It is not a plant and some growths of lichen  maybe the oldest living things on the planet.

After rain, the protective cortex becomes transparent and we can see the variously coloured algae layer underneath . This lichen was growing on the red twigs of dog wood blown down by the storm. On such dark winter days the lichen is positively luminescent and shades of tantalising green and orange flare out to remind us that the natural word is always  still alive and is still all around us!

 

2018 – Work to be done!

A New Year and new hopes.

The garden is muddy, the leaves are unswept and the birds are always hungry. In the forsythia the flock of sparrows squabble. A shrew has dug up a tulip bulb and red kite swoops low to check on the edibility of the cat.

In the undug vegetable  patch parsley uncurls a few leaves after the snow, a red cabbages resigns itself to never being  picked and the mullein rosette settles the ashes from the wood stove amongst the soft, warm down of its winter leaves. It is all still here! There is work to be done!


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