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)

 

 

 

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The Great Piece of Turf

My garden is now officially shut. I glimpse it darkly as I feed the morning birds and sense it fleetingly as I peel the potatoes for dinner, but the rest is darkness between work.

So I turn again to representations of the green I cannot see on  a work day in November and the most wonderful of all is Albrecht Dürer’s Great Piece of Turf.

This water colour was painted in 1503 in Germany and the detail and precision surpasses any digital photo I have ever seen. Dürer is more often remembered for the remarkably messianic self portraits of his undeniably commanding and attractive face; but this small picture contains the whole natural world in all its multifarious, magnificent complexity. Here are  the grasses; the lace edged tansy leaf; the seeding dandelion flowers and fleshy clasping plantain leaves. Here is the view from the ground, the vole’s eye view; an unnervingly clear eyed botanist’s view, who understood how marvelously interlinked and nuanced the living world is and reproduced it in this unassuming  slice of perfection for ever.81927DFF-8E14-4E40-A94E-C699DEF4AF41

 

“…later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease.”

Keats “ Ode to  Autumn” must have been inspired by a day like today. Sunshine has spun out so many  flowers, that it seems impossible cold weather will ever destroy them and frost crisp them: but it will.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease…

 

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Robin’s Bread

Spindle berries are my favourite fruit of the autumn. From inconspicuous little green flowers in the spring, the oddest, brightest and most extravagant seeds grow.

The fruitcase in an astounding lipstick vibrant pink and when ripe they open to display a fluorescent orange seed. Most plants make do with dry seeds in a papery dead case,  but the spindle pouts its glory in colours that seem almost artificial and unnatural in their unexpected vibrancy.

The wood is tough and sharp and was used to making spinning spindles, knitting needles and even toothpicks. Folk law says when used to make a meat skewer, the wood will keep all meat impaled upon it sweet.

In Germany it is called Rotkehlchenbrot or Robin’s Bread and from watching the bush in my garden I understand why . The robins adore the orange fruit and hang upside down on the long branches to pull them out from the pink lips. Black birds and black caps will eat them too and the poisonous seed passes harmlessly through their digestive tracts to be flown to new hedgerow places, where they take root and eventually make more bread for the hungry robins!

 

 

For the next spring.

The virtue of being an untidy gardener is that most of my flowers get to set seed. The down side is a shabby September garden!

So this year I decided to share seeds with friends at work. I filled seven bowls with seeds collected from the garden and the drive. All of them are seeds I know will germinate and make good plants and it was a great pleasure to feel their various textures between my fingers and have friends turn them over and ask questions about the colours and perfumes of the plants they will make.

 

Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936). Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. 1912–22.

The Seed-shop
By Muriel Stuart

HERE in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone and shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry—
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the voice of spring,
Sleepers to wake beneath June’s tempest kiss;
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee find here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams;
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That shall drink deeply at a century’s streams;
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells, a million roses leap;
Here I can stir a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

 

I collected masses of wild marjoram, a heaped bowl of tiny yarrow, a pinch of pale wall flower seeds, a spiked ball of wild agrimony, a sliver of shining columbine seeds, a roll of tough everlasting pea seeds and a sliding flurry of flat honesty seeds.

I hope they have all gone to good homes and will flourish in new gardens.

 

 

 

 

Apple picking.

“….. and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: ….”.

“After Apple Picking”  by Robert Frost.

Frost’s famous poem deals with the impossibility of doing everything, of caring for everything that needs our care. It is the quintessential poem of the sensitive in an insensitivity world.

I think after my exceptionally modest apple harvest, from my very small tree, after a famously bad frost would have inspired something very different. Maybe something about the triumph of hope over reality and the pleasure of saving a couple of apples before the slugs get them!

Autumn Crocus

In my first spring in Switzerland I explored a scrap of meadow, waiting to be built on behind our tidy apartment and found a plant with broad green leaves and long swollen seed head. I had watched every flower appear in the spring on this patch of green and absolutely none of them had preceded this strange seed. The mystery was not solved until a few years later when I moved just over the border into France.

Around my village are lots of parcels of land that obviously belong to different farmers. They mostly support a few fruit trees and lots of grass that is cut at different times for the animals. In this patch work of cut and uncut grass, at the end  of August large beautiful pale purple crocus appear. The flowers push up without any protective green sepals and no leaves of any description. They seem to appear over night and some are mowed down the next day, but many survive long enough to be pollinated.  Autumnal crocus would be better called August Crocus as this is the month of their  glory.

So what is the connection between the mysterious flowerless seed and the leafless flower? Well, the pollinated ovary goes down into the corm underground, where it waits all winter long to make a seed. In the spring the swollen seed head appears with two sturdy green leaves to feed it. Once the seed heads bursts, it disappears until the flowers surprise us again at the end of summer!

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Keeping it real!

 

I am now firmly back in the toad land of work, the long  day stretches ahead and the sky can just be glimpsed through the bars of the firmly shut blinds.

My garden is another five days away and only a few pot plants on the desk remind me of the green I am missing.

A few unexpected specks of spherical black, dot my desk and I realize they are insect frass.  On close inspection of my rose scented geranium, I spot eaten leaves and more frass.  There can only be one explanation.  A caterpillar has hitched a ride from the garden and is slowly devouring my plant, utterly safe from all predators on my desk.

I think it is a garden tiger moth caterpillar and as I write, its hairy body is swelling as it ingests the perfumed leaves.  It doesn’t mind being here.  This is safe and profitable for a caterpillar.

Time to take another lesson from nature, I suppose: but when it turns into an extravagantly patterned moth, I will need to find a way to set it free!