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!

Fruit and Fancy.

After the heat came the rain and everything sighed, expanded, fluffed out a feather and a flower and grew exponentially!

The sun had turned everything to sugar and we picked masses of raspberries, sticky red currents and black currents as perfect as jewels.

I was drying a tray of rain washed berries before freezing them for the winter, when I opened my moth trap and found another new species for the life list. This extravagant creature is a scarlet tiger and she sat momentarily on my hand above the fruit.

There are so many new creatures to be found in every patch and scrap of world. I listened to a wonderful radio show on the almost indestructible tardigrade , that lives in moss and volcanoes and between the plates of barnacle shells.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08vy0yb

I  had never heard of them, but now I regard the rain plumped moss of my path with renewed respect, knowing that it is home to such an extraordinary expression of life.

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Rose beetle.

I love watching rose beetles bury themselves in flowers or shimmer, the very essence of “purest green”, amongst the mint leaves . Their extravagant carapaces always remind me of Gerald Durrell’s masterpiece “My Family and Other Animals” which was the first book I ever enjoyed studying at school and the book that inspired my husband’s family to spend so many years in Greece. The idea of tying such beautiful bugs to the hat, as did the rose beetle man, may seem absurd, but in Greece anything was possible.

“The last time I saw the Rose-beetle Man was one evening when I was sitting on a hill-top overlooking the road. He had obviously been to some fiesta and had been plied with much wine, for he swayed to and fro across the road, piping a melancholy tune on his flute. I shouted a greeting, and he waved extravagantly without looking back. As he rounded the corner he was silhouetted for a moment against the pale lavender evening sky. I could see his battered hat with the fluttering feathers, the bulging pockets of his coat, the bamboo cages full of sleepy pigeons on his back, and above his head, circling drowsily round and round, I could see the dim specks that were the rose-beetles. Then he rounded the curve of the road and there was only the pale sky with a new moon floating in it like a silver feather, and the soft twittering of his flute dying away in the dusk.”
“My Family and Other Animals” Gerald Durrell (1956)

Hot Summer Morning.

IMG_1630This is the garden at 5.30 this morning with the sun already up and slanting through the haze. It was easy to get up early, as the night had been so warm, sleep had been light.

The deep drone of bees from my neighbour’s sweet chestnut tree was loud and the cats were already out hunting mice and my long suffering slow worms. I didn’t care that I hadn’t slept much or that work would be intolerably hot again because the holidays start now and I have the utter luxury of observing, exploring, sometimes even working in, but always enjoying my own wonderful garden, my own little scrap of heaven!

Here’s to summer holidays and gardens everywhere!

You don’t always get what you want ….

This weekend we went looking for a flower. We were told about this flower a year ago, by an elderly botanist who showed us pictures of the great pink spikes of flowers as we ate dinner in a vineyard last summer.

In a mixture of broken German, French and English we discovered that this very rare and very strange plant grew close by and he tried to describe exactly where he had seen it.

The next day we also tried to find it. We tramped over the wonderful limestone cap of a hill that was covered in fly orchids, thorny roses and pinks.  We found the most extravagant orchid I have ever seen in Europe outside of a green house. Large and smelling powerfully of goats, the tongues of its greenish flowers cork screwed down and seemed to lick the stems, giving it the obvious name of lizard orchid. As we dipped back into the neat rows of vines, a bird was startled up and the great parti coloured crest of a hoopoe was plain to see, as the heavy bird lifted up and gave its unmistakable hoopoe call : familiar in the Mediterranean, but so strange here in central Europe.  This little patch of limestone protected for nature amidst the closely planted vines, is a truly remarkable place and is home to so many species that are rarely seen in the Alsace.

Eventually we wandered our way back to the car, stopping only to cool off in the wonderful cave of the local winery.  Swallows nested high up in the eves of the old roof and swooped in to chatter noisily as we sampled some Alsace Pinot Gris and Muscat and chatted to the young woman who lamented Brexit sadly, as she had enjoyed working in England for a while, loved the people and could not see what Britain had to gain by cutting itself off from Europe ( and good wine!).

A year later, we tried again. We tramped the same hill in the sunshine; saw more hoopoes and clouds of Marbled White butterflies, Banded Graylings, Swallow Tails, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and man, many more.  The lizard orchids had gone to seed and we were tired. There had been no seats on the walk so far and so when we found one with the most wonderful view of the village below, I remarked the only thing that would be even better would be if the elusive flowers were right next to the seat – and there they were – also all gone to seed!

 

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If you look closely at the photo you too can see the robust glossy leaves of the plant and the tall brown stems of the seed heads.  This is Dictamnus albus or Fraxinella.  A strange plant that is unique in its own genus  (rutaceae) and very unusual in the wild.  It exudes a curious smelling perfumed oil, that clung to our hands after we had touched it.  In fact it produces so much of this oil that it is also called the Burning Bush as in very hot weather it has been known to spontaneously combust and may well have been the burning bush of Moses in the Bible. The oil can be ignited by a lighter as you can see in this you tube clip of the garden variety.

 

 

We were too late to admire the great pink flowers we had seen in the photo.  You don’t always get what you want, but in pursuit of this rarity we had seen and enjoyed so much, that I think you could definitely say we got what we needed!