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!

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.

Changing the Guard.

The hedgerows are still bare: a few colts foot and celandines have nosed out above the soil and in the woods there are tiny oxslips and lungwort flowers, easily overlooked amongst the dead leaves.

BUT:

The spring migrants are here!

The chiffchaff is throwing his voice like confetti up into the leafless trees. The secretive dunnock has slipped in on the warm air and the electric crackle of the black redstart is fizzing from the barn tops. Every storks’ nest has two gigantic birds stood aloft and they throw back their heads and rattle and clack to one another with insane glee.

In the ploughed fields there are still a few bramblings and in my garden the feeders are covered with siskins, who don’t seem to know that winter is over yet. The cold weather seed eaters are still cautious, but the warm weather insect eaters are already here. They are ready to risk the changing of the guard and for a few days yet they meet in the neutral territory of the early spring.

Up close

This stellar photo is not Jupiter, but the view down my microscope of a humble tradescantia leaf. The green and purple bands are the variegations and the pigmentation glitters like rubies in mesmeric glory. I am still learning to use this amazing , inexpensive microscope and during a wet afternoon I just looked at the leaves from house plants and the few plants in leaf in the garden. I was struck particularly by leaf hairs.

The thick hairs on a woolly Stachys leaf looked like spun glass and the hairs on a herb Robert leaf look like icicles about to melt in sunshine.

The leaf of scented geranium is downy and irregularly studded with brown globules, which I took to be the oils that give the plant its distinctive perfume. This was confirmed when I looked at the leaf of a thyme plant. This leaf was scurffy with tiny hairs and plastered with brown oil globes where the secret of its much prized flavour lie.

The most surprising of all was the leaf of a wall flower, that has survived all winter in the partial shelter of a lean to. I have never considered them hairy at all, but the leaf was covered in long parallel hairs lying flat to the surface. They did not seem useful to keep it warm , or to hold in oils , or defensive spikes, maybe they were to speed water down from the leaf that might otherwise freeze in winter or to focus water onto the roots in dry times.

I have so much to learn!

Water World

This picture is the underside of a Victoria amazonica leaf that had just been hauled out of the water at the botanic gardens in Basel. It was so huge and so extraordinarily spiny it had to be photographed .

Last night I watched the incomparable Green Planet from the BBC with the similarly unequalled David Attenborough. He showed the aquatic battles for light that go on in clean rivers and wetlands between the plants that float and fight so slowly in this apparently peaceful world . The most memorable Timelapse shots were of the gigantic shoots of the Amazon waterlilly sweeping the water clear of other plants to make space for the titanic unfolding of a new leaf. The leaf was armored with the fiercest dagger spines which I well remember gingerly touching in the sunshine outside of the hot house, as the Basel trams rumbled on by . The spines could crush and pierce anything that got in its way as the leaf covered the water in its metre wide plate of photosynthesising aggression.

Ironic that the flower is seen as symbolizing peaceful serenity.

Shows how little we really know!

New plants, new glasses

This article from the Guardian news paper describes the astounding new species of plants that have been found across the world this year.

It also shows how many are endangered and how often it is deforestation to make space for palm oil plantations that is to blame.

I just checked the ingredients on my goat’s cheese pastry parcels that we had just eaten for lunch and sure enough , there was palm oil in the pastry. It is a cheap, almost ubiquitous ingredient and I am determined not to buy a single thing that contains it ever again.

My New year resolution is always wear my glasses in the supermarket and check more carefully in future!

Hundreds of new species include pink voodoo lily and an ylang-ylang tree named after Leonardo DiCaprio
— Read on www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jan/06/ghost-orchid-that-grows-in-the-dark-among-new-plant-finds

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

In 2022, why not spend more time enjoying your garden and less on working in it! Ill.: Claire Tourigny ByContinue Reading

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Laidback Gardeners

I so agree with this post . Less work on mowing and leaf collection and spraying noxious chemical means more time to smell the roses and enjoy the garden and all the life it can support!

Here is to a wildlife and time rich 2022 in the garden for all!

Plan B

As Covid rears it’s ugly head again in this part of the world, plan B is definitely in place and we find the wonders of the woods as absorbing as vin chaud or tinsel at a Christmas market.

Now all the leaves have been whirled away by wind and rain, there is much more light in the forest . On the floor, some plants positively gleam with fresh growth in the winter sun.

Oddities like hazelwort show fat green pennies of leaves against the moss.

Hazel wort

Hart’s tongue ferns have such a wonderfully evocative name as their leaves curl out like the tongue of an amorous male deer .

Harts tongue fern

The hard shield fern is almost invisible except in the winter, when it shines out fresh and vivid amongst the fallen leaves.

Hard shield fern

Maidenhair spleenwort sounds at odds with itself. Maidenhair sounds delicate but spleenwort sounds positively painful. However, the fern itself is beautiful and it falls by steps from the wet rocks.

Maidenhair spleenwort

This young male fern is flourishing in the winter light.

Male fern.

And finally, with the promise of a Christmas flower is this stinking hellebore. The name is harsh as I have never actually smelt it’s apparently bad smell and it is the wild relative of the Hellebores that grace our gardens and decorate tables at Christmas time.

Stinking hellebore in bud
Continue reading

Locked away

This time of year I collect seeds.

The whole plant is now locked away in the tiniest of seeds.

Sometimes they will germinate in Autumn rains and survive the winter, but most often the seed will just wait it out until the spring comes and conditions are right to explode into life.

Seeds are so tiny in comparison to the plant they may become. All that complex information for life is locked away safely in the dry seed and it’s survival is so improbable that it makes collecting the autumn seeds seem like the most important thing I can do . I know seed catalogs are full of technicolor promise for the spring, but these are seeds that I know will grow again. I collect nasturtiums, sweet William, dames violet, wall flowers and lettuce. Some things will just seed without needing to be collected like roucoula , columbine and marigolds. Some will need the lure of the seed catalogue like chard and pumpkin and fennel, but all will be an astounding testimony to what can grow out from the locked away life!

Up and down

The teasels are flowering.

The circle of purple flowers opens both up and down the flower heads and they remind me of the wonderful lines about the candle burning at both ends.

“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –

It gives a lovely light.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thistles: 1918.

When the brief firework of flowers are over, the seed heads will ripen and the dried heads will stand all winter long to feed the meticulous goldfinches when there seems nothing left to eat in the world.

The prickly, unpromising Teasels really are a “lovely light” at both ends of the year.

Today I watched a dandelion clock emerge.

Between the tropical down pours there was sunshine for a whole hour. The dandelion seed heads, that have been waiting for so long, took the water from the soil and pumped up their tall stems. In the strengthening sun light they pushed open the protective sepals.

Baby hair tufts of blonde seed parachutes slowly appeared like a crown . There was time to get my phone, to write this and time to watch as slowly, so slowly the parachutes made the perfect circle of seeds and the sun dried them out and the wind blew them away and the dandelions started all over again, all over again.

Military Orchid

The weather here is unseasonably cool and wet, but the grey skies and rain have brought some wonderful orchids up in the grass.

It is somehow easier to see flowers in dull light, their colours are more bright in contrast and details are fine when not flattened by glare.

These Military orchids Orchis militaris, get their name from the shape of the flowers, each one looking like a soldier with arms, legs and a helmet on his head. In German they are helm orchids and these lovely flowers were in a limestone meadow in Switzerland growing with a motorway under their feet.

This lucky meadow is so precious that the thundering road to Delemont has been put in a tunnel beneath ( where it should be!) and the meadow is used by joggers, buggy pushers and amateur botanists admiring the flowers from the path.

Military orchids are very rare and one of the reasons for their rarity is a drink that was once more popular than coffee. Orchid roots are dug up and boiled to make a drink called Salep or Salop depending on where you are in the world. It is still popular in Turkey and was an important part of Ottoman cuisine which spread around the world. It is drunk where ever orchids are (were) plentiful and was supposed to plump up young women and give fire to men! Orchid roots and testicles have the same shape and have given their name to each other, hence the aphrodisiac link .

The drink was sold widely in cafes in Britain and only declined in favour when it was used as a treatment for syphilis ( that visual simple link again!) and no one wanted to be seen drinking it in case it looked like they had the clap!

So, these particular little soldiers with their big helmets have just survived through a mixture of prudery and Swiss engineering!

Singapore Shows What Serious Urban Farming Looks Like

I found this article in the reasons to be cheerful site, which is a great place to lift the global spirits .

Covid has made many of us realise how vulnerable cities are and how we cannot take food/ pharmaceutical / or even family links for granted any more.

I am deeply impressed by how hard some people are working to make urban gardens produce food and beauty for us all.

In a city-state that imports 90% of its food, rooftop gardens are a matter of national food security.
— Read on reasonstobecheerful.world/singapore-urban-farms-food-security

Pixie’s view of my Chili attempt to save the world!

Sunshine : gold and black!

This bright daffodil was growing on the edge of the wood and maybe wild or may be not.

The wild daffodils I have seen in Gloucestershire and Wales have paler outer petals, so the uniform yellowness of this flower made it seem more like a hybrid of some description. Wild or not, the most remarkable thing about the flower was the myriad of tiny shiny black beetles all over it. I have never noticed them in my life, but Meligethes aeneus or pollen beetle is a common beetle in gardens and farmland apparently. They love yellow flowers and clothes and yellow tennis balls. They eat pollen and can be a problem on rape seed crops, but are no cause for alarm in a garden. They were as beautiful and remarkable as the flower that they were feeding on.

This morning I braved the garden centre and was cheered by the plants and depressed by the row upon row of chemicals on sale to kill “weeds” moss, insects, moles in our gardens.

The link between Parkinson’s Disease and farmers and gardeners who have been in close contact with glyphosate /paraquat such as Roundup herbicide is becoming stronger and stronger and legal cases are being amassed against the manufacturers of such chemicals. We have to find beauty in all aspects of nature and crucially to find a balance between our need for bountiful crops and our need for good human health and a healthy ecosystem . Not drenching our own backyards and gardens with perniciously noxious chemicals would seem the obvious place to start!

We have to find space for the daffodil and the bug!

Honesty .

The Jasmine has deigned to flower this summer.
Last year there were leaves and no flowers : this year the perfume of the white flowers is intoxicating. It is scrambling up the drainpipe next to where the honesty has flowered  and while I peeled off the dull brown cases of the honesty seed heads, I am bathed in the heady perfume of the flowers.
 Peeling the skins from the honesty seedheads is a peaceful task that never ceases to give me pleasure.
The plants have stayed green all winter, clinging on between the paving stones and often dusted in snow . With the first stirrings of spring , their dark green intensifies and strong spikes of little purple flowers race up in the first hint of warmth.  The early honey bees and the long tongued bee flies pollinate them hungrily and their tiny feasting is often the first sound of insect life returning to a cold garden.
When the flowers are pollinated the flat oval seed head start to form. As the spring races into summer the ovals grow and the green cases starts to turn brown.
By the end of July the real heat of summer descends upon the garden and we retreat in to the shade. The last honesty leaves are long shrivelled and gone and the old plants look dry and ugly. But the seeds continue to ripen between the dark papery cases, while we lie in hammocks and the cats sleep the heat away under the hedge.
When the cases are totally dry and the honesty looks at its very worst , I peel back the first case.
Between the brown pages of the cases is a sheet of silver, perfectly shell luminescent with two flat brown seeds still briefly attached until they fall to the ground leaving  the central portion white and bright , clean and lovely.
My fingers are greedy to peel away the cases and to real the wonderful silver moon of the inside. Such a satisfying transformation of dark, dullness into white light! I rub away all the cases and reveal the beauty inside that has been slowly forming all year.

My mother taught me to peel back the cases when I was little in our garden near Liverpool. I was enchanted then and am enchanted still. I want the honesty to grow everywhere in the garden, but it will only flourish in the cracks between the paving stones that it finds for its self.

It will not grow where I plant it , it will only grow where the wind and the broom push the seeds and the warmth from the wall is enough to sustain it through a cold winter.
My ugly duckling plant has a mind of its own and will find the perfect spot to grow and twist all my metaphors into a slice of moonlight of its own as the thunder storm washes the last seeds into their perfect spot for next spring.
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Quatermass and the Pit.

An enormous grasshopper flew into the house and took a great bite out of my spider plant.

It was so heavy it toppled the plant pot and the huge and the unearthly head reminded me of the terrifying creatures found by Professor Quatermass in the London Underground . The 1950s classic TV series has haunted me as the ancient swarm leapt  through the impossible memory of susceptible humans .

Here was the same head, jade green, monumental, implacably other regarding me over the washing up bowl.

It seems we are all just one jump away from Quatermass’ pit!

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Stoning Cherries.

 Stoning cherries.
10 years ago we planted a cherry tree
Thin stick on an unpromising slope
For the blossom, for the fruit, if it ever came.
Each year the stick thickened
The trunk glossy and banded with fine bracelets of silver,
Yielding just a few small cherries.
This year it is finally heavy with fruit
Little globes, still sour , that explode in the mouth.
I stand by the sink, watch the flies on the pane
And push the stones out of each fruit.
The juice runs through my fingers,
The punctured flesh sticks under my  thumb nail.
My hands are clumsy,
but they slowly find the stone
in every fruit,
The stones are discarded in the sticky sink and,
Left behind  is a heaped bowl of broken cherry flesh,
jewel red and succulent.
Worth the wait.
Cathy Cooper 2020
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Before the rain.

Before the rain the peonies  were perfect.

Before the deluge the roses were pristine,

The lawn was trim and the slugs asleep,

But after the storm, in the snail slimed, dripping quiet,

The perfume was divine.

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Complicated beauty.

3656AFC1-5DD2-4761-8AD5-6E417FE3B910Capturing complex beauty is so difficult and I have the greatest  respect for those who take  wonderful photos with such apparent ease.

My garden is crammed with columbines at this time of year all of which have come from seeds collected in the woods locally. They cross and cross with one another and the variety they produce is mesmeric. Every May I try to capture them, but I am never satisfied by the result, as they hide in their five petaled whorls and I cannot begin to show the diversity of their colour and petals.

Some are pale, almost white and they stand out in the dawn light. Others are baby pink and innocent; next are the deep, sophisticated , rose-red flowers. Seemingly unconnected in gradation are the purple columbines: a rare few seem actually blue and are the smallest and most shyly flowered; then there are the work -a -day mid purples with the longest spurs;  followed by purples rich enough for an emperor’s robe and finally, the most exotic of all: the midnight purples, so dark that they seem to absorb the very sun light around them .

Some flowers have just a single whorl of five petals: each petal contains a nectary to encourage the bees to visit and to pollenate .  The nectaries are curled over and this has given the flowers their name, as they look like five doves or columbs facing one another in a delicate ring. They have also given columbines the folk names of “ladies in bonnets”and “old ladies” from when women kept warm and modest in complicated lace caps.

Bumbles bees cannot be bothered extending their long tongues into the spurs and they simply bite into the neck of the ”dove” and steal the nectar provided by the flower. Some plants are not satisfied  with just one ring of petal doves and produce natural “sports” of flowers which are crammed with petals, so they look like pom-poms or little floribunda roses.

This variety is absolutely glorious.

I understand Gregor Mendel started our understanding of genetics by studying the way peas crossed with one another . I am glad he studied  such a visually dull flower, as I think he would never have gained such important insight, if he had studied columbines – their beauty is just too distracting!

 

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My cat is a drug dealer.

My cat has a drug den and today I finally destroyed it.

For years the roots of white valerian plants have attracted our cats to rub the soil and to actually eat the earth around the plant. This has made them feisty, fierce and frankly stoned, which I have put up with and found vaguely amusing . However the habit has spread. The valerian patch is now frequented by all the neighbourhood cats, who come to our garden to get high too. This causes fights and blood has been drawn on many occasions.

We first dug out the big plant and left a few muddy bits of root on the back door step. By dawn the roots were mysteriously all gone and the cats were furtive and jumpy.

We covered the patch were it had grown in wood ash. Our cats came in dirty and grey. We covered the patch in a sheet of plastic. The other cats dug along the edge and left the soil polished with their ecstatic rubbing on the earth where the plant used to grow.

So today I got dirty and dug up every tiny shoot and leaf. The drugs plants are in the photo and it is hard to imagine that they could exert  such a hypnotic pull on every feline for 10 kilometres, but it is true.

This photo shows Pixie rubbing round the shoes I wore to break up the joint. She is relaxed now. Wait until she realises the truth, when she goes to get her fix first thing tomorrow morning!

Cat high.

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