Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Autumn Walk (26 OCT 2011)

Previously, I have stated categorically that the scope of this blog is my back garden. However, it didn't take much coaxing from Carolyn, to encourage me to don a woolly jumper and set out for a walk with my camera and the intent of observing the first signs of autumn. There wasn't a choice of where to go. There's only one place to go walking near here - the local park. Nothing special about it really, just ponds, trees, three courtyard gardens, play-grounds, tennis courts, a renovated mansion for events hire and a cafe.

I can still find the spot where I was photographed on a crocheted blanket laid in front of some bushes, with a toothless grin and without a care in the world.


I can re-trace the long way home from junior school, my mother scolding as ice-cream dribbled down my uniform.


It was the only place that I was allowed to explore unescorted as a teenager, and later my escape when family was too close for comfort before I owned a garden.

Even so, I still come here when I need to think or make important decisions, without the distractions of pottering around and pulling weeds.

I've never brought a camera to the park before.

My childhood memories are filled with birds and squirrels, all so tame that you can feed them by hand.


As the years pass, it's the trees that fascinate me more ....

This tree with its wiggly, outstretched branches, too wide to fill the frame; perfect for climbing yet never clambered. Its craggy trunk would have provided a step-up; its peeled, smooth ivory branches for sliding along to reach the prickly baubles.

I've never climbed trees, it was one of those unwritten rules, being brought up to play it safe. Now those rules don't apply, but I find myself fast approaching the autumn of my life and the number of missed opportunites increase day-by-day.
This tree with branches too haphazard to fill the frame, bends over to take a sip of water, staring at its messy reflection, prompting me to wonder if I should be grateful for not experiencing a few tangles.


As I leave the park, I check out a tree by the entrance. I never noticed how it twisted round until I had a camera in my hand. I went close to it to try and fill the frame, right up close till I was hugging it. Its solidness was comforting and its hugeness dwarfed my thoughts to nothing ... think I'll be taking more photos of trees in future.

Today I'm linking up to :
Carolyn's Autumn Walk Challenge
Gardening Gone Wild Photo Contest : Fill the Frame

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Evolution (20 OCT 2011)

When Donna posted about "Evolution", she started her analysis in the garden but finally had to take a walk to the Niagara Falls to find the true meaning of the word.

So I have two problems with this challenge : (1) the scope of this blog is confined to my back garden (2) I live in a suburb of London where you would struggle even to find relics of the past century. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the back garden of my house, built in the early 1930s, is as historical as it gets around here ...

At first, there were snails .... primitive limpet-like snails date back to about 600 million years ago.

baby snail on a poppy leaf

It's believed that slugs evolved from snails. The evidence is that the saddle of a slug contains the remnants (or the initiation?) of a snail shell.

one of the more attractive slugs in my garden

Being a "scientist", my beliefs are based on data that I have studied. I have observed snails and slugs co-existing in my garden; one day I'll peer at a snail stuck to the under-side of a hellebore leaf, the next day I'll uncover a slug soaking up the moisture retained under a stone. To me, one creature doesn't seem advanced or superior compared to the other, they are just doing their own thing (which mostly involves nibbling at my favourite plants).

Mosses evolved about 350 million years ago, whereas grasses are relatively new on the scene becoming widespread about 55 million years ago, 10 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. Well, that's what paleontologists thought until they found grass in dinosaur droppings.

moss is a gymnosperm (non-flowering plant)
grass is a monocot while clover is a dicot
Flowering plants, angiosperms, are split into two major groups monocots (with one seed leaf) and dicots (with two seed leaves). It's not clear why these two groups evolved separately, but they both thrive in my lawn. Equally confusing is the development of pollination, mosses evolved before flowering plants and grasses evolved after, yet they both rely on wind pollination, whereas the petals of the dicots in my flower beds indicate that they are hoping for insect pollination.


It is hypothesised that the evolution of grasses led to an increase in grazing animals, which opened up the landscape in preparation for human existence.

apposable thumb

The humans' ability to manipulate tools to extract bone marrow (brain food) from carcasses resulted in increased intelligence and more ingenious ways of using tools, setting up a feedback loop. This theory made sense until bones, pre-dating humans, which seem to have been crushed by stone tools were discovered.

Even so, humans have used their intelligence to change nature for better and for worse. 

hybrid tea rose grews amongst wild rose bushes

What this human has concluded in this landscape is that :
(1) we are lucky to be living in a forgiving era where species adapted for different conditions can live side-by-side
(2) small changes on a continuous basis make the biggest difference in the long run. You only need to watch a plant growing to understand this.

I'm linking this post to Donna's meme Word for Wednesday : EVOLUTION / EVOLVE
Please check out the other posts at :

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Monday, 10 October 2011

Dwarf Flowering Quince (10 OCT 2011)

It would be exaggerating if I called myself an insomniac, but I often used to wake up in the morning feeling more tired than when I went to sleep. Worries in my head before climbing up to bed would multiply overnight and bother me even more the following day. This was the status quo until I realised that actually sleep isn't the best way to rest because one is out of control. Isn't it the case that true repose is found when the mind is fully occupied - in the zone ?  I didn't understand what this phrase meant until I started gardening.

Last year I threw away the produce of my Dwarf Flowering Quince (chaenomeles) because I thought they were parasitic growths. It was their stalklessness that confused me, and in my defence I didn't know the name of the inherited plant with salmon-pink winter/spring blooms back then. After finally classifying it by accident, I found out that quinces had been valued in ancient times as air fresheners. I had seen them listed in pie recipes to give an enhanced apple essence, but as quinces can't be bought in local shops I didn't have a clue of their scent or flavour and have waited almost a year to harvest them this time.

My chaenomeles bush, which is actually a thicket of suckers, produced four pomes. I'm hoping for more next year as the suckers increase.

quince bush

quinces reposed

Chaenomeles are smaller, rounder, harder and more tart than regular quince (cydonia oblonga), unpleasant to eat raw, ideal for jam-making. They don't have a structured core like an apple, instead there are relatively large, pith capsules containing several seeds which pleases the gardener in me but not the cook. The yellow skin darkens and secretes aromatic oil as the fruit ripens; the scent is a cross between grapefruit and apple, but that's not doing justice to its perfume. I sliced two pomes thinly, without peeling them and boiled them down with four heaped tablespoons of sugar to a pulpy jam. The skin didn't disintegrate but could be cut with a spoon; I'm glad I kept it for its flavour and appearance. The other two fruit have been left in the fridge to simulate bletting by frost, hopefully this will sweeten them so I wont have to add so much sugar.

quince seeds
cooking quince jam

As it cooked, I thought about the most appropriate use of this precious dollop of quince jam; it didn't seem fitting to spread it on toast for breakfast. Maybe I could spoon it on top of a creamy rice pudding for two prepared for a special occasion ... I plopped the jam in a glass to cool and had a taste. It fizzled on my tongue like sherbert, my mouth was filled with its citrusy, appley tanginess. It probably needed more sugar and slightly longer cooking but I continued to eat it slowly, just taking a little on the tip of my spoon each time, due to its potency.
I sat on the back door-step, leaning against the doorway; my favourite place from where I can survey one side of the garden, eating the quinces that had grown there; deciding which plants needed to be moved from here to there, and there to here; which plants would be lightly pruned, cut back to the ground or left to grow wild; which seeds could be collected now and those that had to wait a while. Spoonful after spoonful and plant after plant ..... zzzzzzzzzzz


I'm linking this post to Donna's meme Word for Wednesday : REPOSE
Please check out the other posts at :

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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Re-Introduction (02 OCT 2011)

Alistair commented on my previous post : “Revisiting what we have already talked about in the past is very difficult to avoid when garden blogging.”.  It was timely; I’ve been thinking about this quote all week … How many times can one observe a subject deeper or from a different angle before boredom sets in for the writer let alone the readers?
When I blogged about nicotiana last October, it was a minimal post.  Apart from lab write-ups and reports for work, it was the first piece of prose that I’d written since leaving school. I remember criticising as there were too many “I”s considering the brevity of the text, so some were taken out, resulting in broken (though less egotistical) English. The photo became my icon, as it was the only one available which was in focus.  At that time I hadn’t fully appreciated their smokiness and stickiness, how the flower stems started out in life prim and proper, then on reaching middle-age pointed haphazardly in all directions, baring stamens and stigmas unashamedly. I didn’t predict they would self-seed and become a signature plant in my garden.

middle-aged nicotiana

Slugs & snails were mentioned in that first post to pad out the words, though I hadn't even inspected properly to understand my true feelings towards them, just deciding that they shouldn't be killed unecessarily, more so they wouldn't have to be dealt with than out of kindness. I would never have guessed they would be sought for photos or that a situation would arise where one would be touched by accident with an ungloved finger - it felt like a drop of water.
snail knocked off a plant

In the About this Blog section, I wrote that since reading The Secret Garden I had wanted a garden of my own; during the past year it dawned on me that this garden belongs as much to the slugs & snails as it does to me. Extending this idea, multiplying by more than a trillion, I realise that the rest of the land area of this planet belongs to me as much as any other person or creature - a thought that hadn't occurred to me before my experiments with plants.
They have not been as scientific as imagined when this blog was entitled - it was more difficult to set up controlled conditions than anticipated. In fact it is the lack of control that adds excitement and I am relieved to take the roles of observer & assistant rather than creator & controller for a change, lifting the weight of responsibility from my shoulders not only when I'm gardening.
Would you believe me if I said my garden has changed my approach to life? … or maybe it’s a coincidence that I’ve become happier, braver, more hopeful and sociable in the past year. The previous gardener and my mother must have known this secret; they had in common a love of roses which I have inherited. When I was young, I used to wonder why my mother bothered with gardening, knowing full well that there would be harsh winters and watering bans in the summer that would disrupt her efforts. Yet after high winds recently damaged my own garden, experiments continued as if nothing had happened; now I recognise that the process is more valuable than the final display.
©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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