26 April 2015

Ivy: The Sands Of Ozymandias

Ivy is a unnerving plant. Like a great green wave it just keeps on coming. It doesn't take long to engulf exposed lengths of fence, or stretch out tendrils to conquer new ground. Severe pruning doesn't dishearten it. Give it an inch and it'll take a mile.

It is an aggressive dark presence looming on the edges of the garden, threatening to drown everything in its way. But in some ways those Gothic qualities give it an elegant grace that save it from simply being an annoying weed.

Conservation charities generally remove ivy from the old buildings they look after because it can be damaging to weak masonry, but during the Romantic period of the early 19th century a covering of ivy was thought to enhance the appeal of any ruined monastery or castle.
“Where legendary saints and martyrs on the ornamented panes once testified the zeal of the founder and the skill of the artist, the ivy flaunts and the daw builds her nest while to a fanciful eye Nature and Time seem proud of their triumph over the labour and ingenuity of man" William Gilpin 1818
Whatever you think about it, if you think it romantic or menacing, it is an important plant for wildlife. At least 70 insect species eat some part of it, it can be the main food source for autumn foraging bees, and then other things eat the insects and the berries the bees create.

So in these years of dwindling natural resources the inexorability of ivy must be tolerated, perhaps even celebrated.

21 April 2015

Common Dogs

The weeds in Garden65 (and goodness it's approximately 40% weeds) are so young they still have an air of innocence about them. They have arranged themselves into attractive little assemblages, and I can't help viewing them with affectionate indulgence.
Of course, this is a mistake. It won't be long before they grow into big bastards with a stubborn attitude.

But until they do let's take a closer look at the pretty Dog Voilet. Ha! I'm calling it pretty now, but in a couple of months time I'll be cursing it when I'm on my hands and knees prising it from the crazy paving with a butter knife.
The Common Dog Voilet, Viola riviniana, has 5 purple petals, with a central white area helpfully lined with directional stripes that guide pollinating insects down to the nectar. This is contained in a spur formed by the lower petals at the back of the flower.
There are a handful of other violets, apart from the common Common Dog, such as the Early Dog and the Sweet Violet. These have purple or blue spurs, whereas our common violet has a white spur.
And after fiddling with all the little flowers in the garden I can confirm there are no rare violets here.

17 April 2015

Gardens Give Life

This week I have been staying with my M&D in their Suffolk home.

Since they have a big beautiful garden, and they are surrounded by Nature in all its oceanic and rural abundance, I thought it would be easy to find a topic to write about. But it has turned out to be too difficult to pick one thing. Should the blog mention the gorse flowers that smell of coconut, the polite mating rituals of swans, or foamy white blackthorn blossom?

So instead I'd like to make a general observation.

While I wrestled with some pastry (another story) my mum went on an excursion to the gardens of a stately home with her gardening group, and my dad got the ladder out and brought a tall shrub back under control with some lethal looking hedge clippers.

When mum came back we all had a cup of tea and talked about walled gardens, planting new orchards, and did dad really know what he was doing.

Thus gardens and gardening have allowed these two people to be themselves. Dad got to be heroic and mum got to be with friends and consider History.

I'm sure there are other ways they could have done this. Perhaps it might involve art galleries and museums, or workshops and evening classes, or even bingo halls and pubs.

But is it Gardening that will keep them healthy and happy the longest?
Let's hope so.

12 April 2015

Horologium Florae

Morning Glory - Dog Rose - Catmint - Chicory - Dandelion - Marigold -
Osteospermum - Gentian - Evening Primrose - Nicotiana

I noticed in the weekend papers that there is a new book out, 'The World Beyond Your Head',  in which the author, Matthew Crawford, warns against the constant distraction of the modern media-driven world. The tagline for the article is 'distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind'.

Being someone who is definitely a 'mind' person, always thinking, reading, and googling, that line made me think. Have I got a fat head? A lardy, cellulite dimpled mind? I think, upon reflection, I probably do. Owning an Ipad is lethal. It's like smoking - very hard to give up.

Do you remember the time before the internet? However did we discover stuff? I think we found it by roaming the aisles of bookshops and libraries. It must have taken up dedicated time to search out books, and patience enough to plough through them or their bibliographies to discover that final gem of information. Serendipity played a major part.

It is hard to tell which method is most rewarding. Now all I have to do is ask a question and the net can provide the answer without me having to leave the house, or put on shoes. The majority of this blog's content comes from such a method. I don't actually know this stuff here, I hope you realise that!

And here's the nub of the conundrum - is all this easily accessed, interesting, mildly exciting information true 'knowing'?

Let me demonstrate: after reading the papers I picked up the Ipad and looked at Twitter. On that feed I followed a link to an article by a feminist magazine that cited a New York Times article about an idea Carl Linneaus had in 1751. Wow, isn't the modern world amazing? From political London, to New York, to eighteenth century Sweden. Fantastic. My obese mind quivered with joy.

His idea was so intriguing I thought I'd research it more and tell you all about it. And yes, I've perused pdfs from the Linnean Society and with the help of Google Books looked at a few pages of a book originally published in 1824. Incredible. But none of this was ultimately useful in getting to grips with Linneaus' idea.

Through his own observations of plants he found the flowers of different species open and close at fixed times of day, independent of external stimuli like the sun or heat. He postulated that it is possible to tell the time by which flowers were open. Hence, his Horologium Florae, or Flower Clock.

I was going to give you a list of the plants, mostly weeds, that open at say 10 in the morning and close at 2 in the afternoon. It would be fun to spot a weed when out walking, guess the time, then check your watch (phone), and give a little chuckle when you realise all is well in the world and the Great Clockmaker himself is taking care of things.

There is a problem however. And it's not that Linneaus was wrong. Some plants do have internal (endogenous) clocks, and flowers do have their own time keeper separate from their leaves. It's just that Linneaus lived very near the arctic circle, where plants flower in short seasons of short days. You may see the same species growing out of the pavement here but they behave differently.

To create a list of time measuring flowers that would be useful to you, you would have to spend time looking at flowers.

And then you would KNOW

At last I get to my point.

OK, admittedly we have watches and phones and don't actually need to consult flowers to know if it's time to go home, or if The One Show is about to start, but those devices are of the manmade world, they are separate from the natural world. They are a distraction from what is really happening; from the real time.

The over consumption of words (I may be labouring the point here) insulates us from the natural flow of Time.  A clock we will all succumb to one day.

8 April 2015

Bosser Martin's Nemesis

Yes, I know, I really must get round to dusting.

I am risking ridicule and pity to show you this crane fly, Tipula rufina, who is unusually out and about in spring, rather than in autumn when other species of crane fly choose to expire in your dust.

The larval stage of crane flies are the notorious leatherjackets that live under your lawn, and if in large enough numbers create bare patches. This was famously (according to Wiki, anyway) a problem that occurred at Lords Cricket Ground in 1935:

I wish Bosser Martin would sort out my lawn. Although 'fieriness' isn't its main problem, more like 'bogginess', I'd say.

5 April 2015


Finding running too inglorious, and gyms too intimate the only real exercise I deign to do is long walks on a Sunday. Which at first glance sounds lovely, but in reality means trudging down dual carriageways and looping round barren housing estates. However, today the sun came out, and everything was cheery, so I sought out somewhere a little more uplifting by walking along the banks of the River Mersey.

It was good to see Spring bursting into life. There were butterflies, ladybirds, birds, verdant greenery, and even some young people. Unfortunately there were sections of the river that smelt of dog poo and rat's piss, and I had to say hello to a scrawny topless man who evidently held Vladimir Putin as his style guru, but all in all it was lovely.

Large areas of the river banks were covered in a yellow flowering plant that looks like a buttercup but turns out to be Lesser Celandine.

Both are from the taxonomic family Ranunculaceae, which in Latin means Little Frog. These plants prefer damp conditions, so maybe, when the natural world was richer than it is now, frogs where frequently found hiding beneath these spring flowers. It's a nice thought but the family also includes delphiniums and clematis, so maybe not.

In fact, the name Celandine itself is a mystery too.  Apparently it is named after swallows because they both appear in spring.  Now, some sources say the word celandine comes from either the Latin or Greek for the word swallow - chelidonia or chelidon. But this got me thinking .... what's the latin name for the actual swallow bird?  Hirundo rustica.   Interesting. Not anything resembling chelidonia then? Hirundo is the latin for swallow. Hmm. 

Gilbert White, who wrote The Natural History of Selborne in 1789, comes to the rescue:
The swallow, though called the chimney-swallow, by no means builds altogether in chimnies, but often within barns and out-houses against the rafters ... In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called ladusvala, the barn-swallow.
 Is the 'svala' of ladusvala pronounced with a w sound rather than a v?   Do I have any Swedish readers who might be able to confirm this?

Perhaps my Celtic reader would like to comment on the celtic name for celandine: Grian - sun?

And 'Erdopffel'? Mediaeval German.


Happy Easter everyone