Sweet Tico magic.

I was lucky enough to teach and to live in Costa Rica for four years, many years ago.

There was so much I loved and admired about this country: the complete lack of military spending; the emphasis on education and the great respect Costa Ricans had for teachers; their unashamed search for peace and most of all, their protection and love of wildlife. When we lived in Costa Rica it had the highest percentage of its land mass given over to nature reserves of any country on the planet and the diversity of habitats in this tiny beautiful country is breathtaking.

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

San Jose, the capital, is not the most scenic city in the world, it has pollution and ugly malls, but my attention was caught by this article on one of its satellite towns : Curridabat.

Take a read to lift your spirits.


About the lucky gardener.




How to moth trap.

This post is for those who would like to trap moths and discover what is flying at night when they are safe in bed. If moths give you the heebie-jeebies then skip this post!

I am sure there are other ways of doing it, with other equipment, but I am just sharing my own experience for those who are curious.

I have been trapping for about 12 years on a regular basis.  I had been out with other naturalists many years ago in Wales, but it wasn’t until my husband bought me a trap for a present that I started in earnest.


First thing you need is a moth trap.   

https://www.watdon.co.uk/   Watkins and Doncaster provided Charles Darwin with his equipment.  They send across the world and they know what they are doing.  I recommend their basic plastic bucket trap to start with and two bulbs (in case you smash one!).

All a trap is, is a UV light bulb which attracts the moths, above a plastic funnel.  The moths then fall down into the bucket below, where they perch on cardboard egg boxes in safety for the night.

The next morning you switch off the light, open the trap gently and carefully remove each egg box one by one. You then photograph the moths (in case they fly off!) and then try to identify them using a good guide book.

I use British Moths by Chris Manley published by Bloomsbury.  I have not found a similar single volume guide for France.  I am certain there are excellent guides for where you live.  There are also some excellent free on line identification sites.  I use https://ukmoths.org.uk/systematic-list/ and also http://montgomeryshiremoths.org.uk/ which is very good for showing what is around at the right time of year.

You make a note of the weather and date and keep a list of what you find in English and or Latin.  I tick off all the species that I have confidently identified in my guide book, so that I can find them again more easily.  I later send my list and photos to my local naturalist organisation, https://faune-alsace.org  so that my records can be compared with others, but you can skip this bit!

That is the bare bones and I am aware that it sounds unutterably dull and nerdy.  The reason for doing it is because you get to see the most wonderful creatures with your own eyes, while drinking a cup of tea on the back step of your own home and that takes some beating as a wildlife experience.  I have been lucky enough to live in Zambia and to spend months on safari, I have lived in Costa Rica for four years and in Brazil for two and spent as much time as possible in the forests, rivers and oceans, seeing wildlife that most people only see on David Attenborough tv programmes and yet I have never enjoyed wildlife in such comfort, or been so amazed on a daily basis as I have been when moth trapping in my own back garden!



  1.  It takes a long time to learn the common moths that you will encounter on your patch.  It has taken me 10 years to be confident with the common moths and even then I make mistakes.  There are a lots of moths and many of them look the same!!!

2. Start by identifying the ones with clear colours or markings.  Leave the dull ones until much later.  There is no shame in being confused.  If the guide book says the moth that you have spent hours identifying is very rare in your area, then you probably have made a mistake.

3. Keep your moths cool.  If it is warm and the trap has been left in the sun before you open it, then they will all fly away before you identify them.  Move your trap into the coolest shade you can and let them settle before taking out the boxes.  If you do this, you do not need to put them in collecting jars to look at.  They will sit happily on the egg box while you admire them.

4. Take a photo on your phone or camera, so you can look back at them and identify them when you have time.  This final phase often requires a glass of chilled wine and a sofa!

5. Let the moths fly off when they want to, or shake onto a bush.  My cats used to try to eat them, but now treat them with feline disdain.




1. UV light and plastic funnel.

2. Box containing old egg boxes and electrical connection.

3. Lead to mains or to a big battery if you want to set up the trap in a remote place.

4. Identification guide.


Snow in Spring time.

Along the stream crack willows grow. Planted generations ago to provide wands for basket weaving, periodically the willows are still cut back  hard and I fret about the birds that used to feed and nest in them.

And then they grow back thicker and lusher than before, noisy with black caps, loud with lovely yellow hammers and wheezy with green finches.

And then they set seed and a blue May morning is filled with down shaken from a pillow and impossible snow flakes drifting down, caught on a breeze, confusing the eyes with delight.

Look hard at the blue photo and you can follow their transient trajectory too!

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

Sweet Tico magic.

Some times you do something that changes your life forever.

I took a job in Costa Rica. I packed up the house in Wales, confident I would be home in two years and we left to see the world.

The first thing I recognised in San Jose were bizzie-Lizzies  flowering in cracks of the  city streets and that is where the familiar stopped. I didn’t recognise anything else.

Outside of the city there were active volcanoes belching steam and spewing larva; in the uplands resplendent  quetzals plucked wild avocados from cloud forest trees. On the Caribbean coast there were jaguars on the beach and on the Pacific coast giant turtles hauled themselves out of the surf to lay soft ping pong ball eggs in the moist sand. This was my new found land, my America and the exhuberence of the tropical forests; dry forests; clouds forest and beaches blew my mind.

This wasn’t Wales.

When there was so much to explore and so much pristine wildlife outside of the city to see, the personal domain of a garden seemed of less importance, but as l, like all other real people had a living to make, the jungle was only for the weekend and my garden was for the week.

Our bungalow in San Jose had a small wrap around garden with a car porch and a tall white wall on which sprawled the fastest growing bougainvillea in creation. An explosion of pink flowers cascaded from it all year and the huge spiny branches seemed to grow a metre a day. When we came back from a week away we had to hack our way through the gate.

At the Saturday market you could buy orchid plants hanging from scraps of wood and my car port was soon festooned in them. They went against all instincts, they seemed to have roots that should be covered in earth but were happy to absorb water straight from the rain. With some judicious spraying they periodically produced wonderful flowers, but the nakedness of the roots still disturbed me.

We hung up a sugar water feeder and a humming bird came to feed at the window. It was an utterly improbable jewelled mechanical toy that seemed suspended in the air by an invisible wire and to look into its bright eye was like looking into another geological age.

A tiny garden opened out from the shower with a burglar proof metal lattice above. This was the perfect place from which to suspend pots of more orchids and shade loving ferns and when I washed, I felt I was in my own miniature jungle.

Near the bedroom window a chilie bush grew, that produced very small, very fierce red chilies all year round. We tried  a few in cooking and they were all seed and heat. Lying in bed under the mosquito net we would watch a plump grey taniger pluck them one by one and toss them delicately down without a tear.

After a while we were troubled by an appalling smell from the drain outside and eventually discovered a decomposing cane toad, massive and bloated. The drain man tossed it into the empty lot next door where it continued to fester and stink for weeks, but its removal seemed to encourage another cane toad to take up residence in the garden. It was as big as a kitten and excellent at catching pests. I know that cane toads are considered the pests in Australia where they were introduced, but in Central America, where they originate, they are wonderful.

There were only two seasons: wet and dry and things grew in both. The rains brought the lushest growth, but the windy dry season was still green. There was no respite from the geckos and lizards, from the frogs and the birds and away from the city, the butterflies, the bats, the snakes and the monkeys.

To us the whole country was our garden of Eden.