Thursday, 29 March 2012

Back In My Garden (29 MAR 2012)

While sitting on my back door-step during the second week of March, I realised that there was enough happening to write a proper, grown-up post about gardening with no need to crawl about on the internet, weave in other subjects to pad it out, without being distracted by navel-gazing or seeking inspiration elsewhere. However, somehow I didn't relish the idea, Garden Blogger's Bloom Day came and went and here we are at the End of the Month.  

Starting from the beginning of March ...
The crocuses were more sparsely distributed than my planting the year before last.  Maybe I mowed the lawn too soon after they flowered last year; maybe the snow and icy temperatures deterred some. The brave ones remaining bloomed unspontaneously and wilted quickly; the fantasy of a carpet of crocuses wasn't realised. I'm left debating if I should join in with the chorus of lawn mowers straining as they attempt the first cut of the year or allow the crocus leaves more time to store energy in the bulbs.

Crocuses ....   the fantasy                                       the reality                                                     the memory    

Actually, I'm not too upset that my drift of crocuses wasn't a patch on the ones in the local park. Planting and anticipating them was like arranging my own surprise party, not half as magical as walking in on them on my way into town.

I don't like daffodils, honestly, but they don't look so bad in pairs ...
A few buds emerged as early as the new year celebrations and opened in early February just before it snowed but they're almost over now, hardly overlapping with the tulips as they did last year. Originally, I spaced the bulbs that I had bought equally around the garden (a common mistake made by beginners according to blogs I've read), which resulted in quite an odd-looking display. I meant to rectify the situation by uprooting and replanting them in groups, but didn't get round to it and I hadn't labelled them anyway. Not to worry, because this year each daffodil has a sibling. Even the tall gawky ones don't look so ugly now that they have look-alikes.

Daffodils in their second year of  flowering

Last weekend, one of my visitors, a non-gardener, exclaimed : "That's the best rose bush I've ever seen!". This was quite a compliment, because I usually have to hold up the net curtain and stare out into the garden before she gets the hint that it's time to make a comment about my pride and joy. I have to admit though that all the camellia bushes that I've seen in my neighbourhood look like this. Apart from pruning it into the shape of a lollipop, I haven't applied any treatments or even watered it.


The first wild flowers have made their appearance ....
Lamium in my nominally plantless front car-parking space, a daisy in the lawn, a dandelion in the woodland, and violets between the paving stones. I score many hits from people seeking solutions for deweeding their patios after they spot some of my photos which look like "before" shots of an advertisement.

Lamium, Daisy, Dandelion, Violets

Until this spring, I never went into the garden early in the morning to observe that tulips close at night time. Their petals look so delicate that it doesn't seem possible that they have a hinge mechanism incorporated. The top row were photographed on Saturday afternoon and the bottom row on Sunday morning.

Greenflies seem to like white tulips.

The first siting of bluebell buds in the woodland is an indicator that the next phase of spring is about to begin - the joys of cherry blossoms, bleeding hearts and foxgloves are yet to come. Giving birth the second time is reported to be a smoother experience, that's the most fitting way to describe how I'm feeling now.

        hyacinth                                          hyacinth pretending to be a bluebell                      first bluebell sighting

I'll be linking this post to Helen's End of Month meme at The Patient Gardener
There are more plants In My Pots, but I'm saving those for Katarina's meme at Roses & Stuff.

Finally I would like to thank Jenny @ spokes&petals for nominating me for a Versatile Blogger Award. She's a writer, gardener & cyclist (in that order, I think). Her blog feed isn't being picked up by Blotanical so please click on the link and pay her a visit - hope you like the post that I selected.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Is there life after death? (21 MAR 2012)

Amongst the towers and traffic of the East End of London is a place to find peace and sanctuary.

Originally commissioned as a burial ground in Victorian times, now a public park and nature reserve cared for by one paid worker, Friends and volunteers.  A place where young Londoners, who may have never seen woodland, can visit with their schools or families.

Historically, all churchyard burial grounds were consecrated.  In modern times, graves are leased for up to 75 years, even so the inner city of London will run out of grave spaces in a few years.

Mother Nature reclaims what she can.

Managing this land on a shoestring budget is a delicate balance between preserving it's history and encouraging the growth of wild flora and fauna whilst facilitating public access.

At some point in our lives we shall be faced with the reality of our mortality.
It might be in a doctor's surgery awaiting test results, after narrowly escaping a road accident or in a place of rememberance like this.
Consequently, our faiths will be tested to their limits.
Despite everything that we have been taught and believe, some of us may still wonder :
Is there life after death ?

I've stopped asking this question since becoming a gardener.

trumpet daffodils                                                                             double daffodils

jetfire daffodils                                                                            Narcissus canaliculatus

lesser celandine                                                                                  primrose

unknown 1                                                                                         snowdrop

star of bethlehem                                                                               pickwick crocus


unknown 2                                                                                      hyacinth

lamium                                                                                            unknown 3

unknown 4                                                                                      unknown 5

unknown 6                                                                                             anemone

bluebell                                                                                            muscari

All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Asparagaceae (13 MAR 2012)

There are some things through life that are certain, as sure as eggs is eggs : first eaten half-boiled served with toast soldiers, then poached and perched on baked beans, egg 'n' chips, eggs benedict, fried sunny-side-up for full english breakfast, and now back to half-boiled with toast  ... or asparagus spears, simply but carefully steamed, for a special occasion.  If I had known that I would never taste a more flavourful, richer, vibrant, voluptuous sauce during the rest of my life, I might have been less inclined to wrinkle my nose, let my breakfast slip onto the floor and watch the yellow goo drip onto the carpet. These days my preference would be to eat a half-boiled egg every morning, except the instruction "no more than three eggs a week" rings in my ears. The only question is what to dip into this rationed treat.
Caution : It's now recommended that young children, the elderly and pregnant women should not eat raw or partially cooked eggs.
                                                                          every morning while I can that is ...

Gardening is my thinking time, and as I build up an appetite, it's usually food that's on my mind. Last week, I was inspecting a hyacinth plant in bud when I was suddenly overcome by an urge to run into the kitchen and pop an egg into some boiling water - to my eye, it appeared to be an asparagus spear sent from heaven. After a little research, I discovered that hyacinths and asparagus have been classified in the same family Asparagaceae since 2009, however not all asparagus species are edible and common hyacinths are poisonous.

Common hyacinths are poisonous

Other members of the family Asparagaceae are :

Lily-of-the-valley and ...

Muscari (grape hyacinth) is in flower now
and ...
Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) about to flower in the Woodland

also, maybe more surprisingly,  hosta, agave, yucca and ...

my houseplant Dracaena - hasn't flowered so far

I find it difficult to fathom that according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III (botanists with the unenviable task of classifying all flowering plants),  it has been proven down to a molecular level that this plant family evolved from a close common ancestor. Visually though, it is difficult to identify characteristics which set them apart from other plants. Until 2003, they were grouped in the formerly miscellaneous lily family, Liliaceae. Since then Asparagaceae has been limited to a few species (in sensu stricto) and then broadened (in sensu lato) in 2009, with a diversity ranging from habitats in arid deserts to shady woodlands. Botantists continue to debate ...

Meanwhile, I'm no closer to finding something in my garden to dip into my egg. I'll have to resort to toast soldiers.


Carol Klein shares her thoughts on the Asparagaceae family ...
and here are the other plant families in her series if you're interested.

Even though plant classification may seem complicated, once you get into it, it's fun to guess if plants are in the same family. Understanding how plants evolved and how they are related to each other (or not) adds a new dimension to gardening. If you look up any plant in wikipedia, the family that it belongs to is shown in the box on the right of the page - that's how I started to recognise the relationships.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Saturday, 3 March 2012

London Plane Tree (03 MAR 2012)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) lived in Italy during the Renaissance, a time when scientists were polymaths rather than the specialists we recognise today. They understood that the sciences, mathematics, architecture, engineering, philosophy, literature, art and music were all inseparably linked together. Leonardo himself is reknowned for his paintings and inventions but not many people are aware that he dabbled in botany in his spare time. Manuscripts containing his botanical sketches remain as evidence.

One of his observations referenced the fractal growth pattern of trees :
"Leonardo claimed that each year when the branches of plants have concluded their maturation, when added together, the sum total of their cross-section is equal to the cross-section of the trunk."  Enlarge the thumbnail in this page to see a scan of his sketch ...
... and here's a piece of modern art generated mathematically by following this principle.

Some trees exhibit it better ...


...  than others ...


A mathematical model created last year questioned the long-standing theory that the fractal form of trees evolved to allow optimal sap flow and proposed instead that this growth pattern is dictated by wind forces.

My cherry blossom tree demonstrates wind resistance in the summer

Trees are an example of covergent evolution. This is when, through generations, unrelated species find the same solution to their problems. Different plants discovered that by developing trunks, they could reach higher, even shading other plants competing for sunlight. The first plants to evolve in this way were similar to tree ferns (with trunks but without branches) or pines with whorls of radial branches around the length of their trunks with minimal signs of further branching.

The next evolutionary steps for trees in climates where there are clearly defined seasons were that the lower branches grew upwards to form crowns for more exposure to light in sunny months, and the trees lost their leaves in wintery months resulting in reduced surface area to prevent damage by winds and snowfall.

“While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.” Leonardo da Vinci

This is my favourite tree in a public place. I posted photos of it in autumn while its leaves were still intact and last month when it was covered in snow, but here it is on a sunny day at the point where winter turns to spring. Please take a walk with me to the tip of the longest branch on the right and then ...

In autumn I didn't know its name, assuming it was a type of chestnut tree.
Its prickly, green fruit were so hard that they wouldn't break under-foot when I trod on them to check if there was a nut inside.

Now they have turned golden-brown and softened to a multitude of fluffy tufts each carrying a seed.   

I eventually classified it by the markings on its branches.
The London plane (platanus hispanica) is a hybrid of platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) and platanus orientalis. It's more resistant to fungal disease compared to its parent trees and thrives in urban areas as it self-cleanses. Its relatively stiff outer bark sheds as the tree expands, removing residual pollutants with it and producing a mottled effect which inspired the khaki pattern used for military uniforms.

I'll return later in the year to see what its flowers look like. I've read that they're inconspicuous, facilitating wind pollination, as these trees belong to an ancient family which evolved before bees and butterflies. Maybe this also explains its strange branch formation, half-way between a fir tree's and a regular deciduous tree's (as in Leonardo's sketch).

He noted that the fractal principle only applies to trees that aren't deformed or haven't been pollarded. Since classifying this tree I've seen several around, they all have symptoms of an irregular (not deformed) shape though they're not as old as the tree above. Maybe he wasn't aware of plane trees ...

I felt uncomfortable publishing this post because it seemed that I had left a loose end, but relaxed after reading these words : 

The elements of mathematics, that is to say number and measure, termed arithmetic and geometry, discourse with supreme truth on discontinuous and continuous quantities. Here no one argues that twice three makes more or less than six, nor that a triangle has angles smaller than two right angles, but with eternal silence, every dissension is destroyed, and in tranquility these sciences are relished by their devotees.
Leonardo da Vinci

I think he's saying that mathematics is just a way to simplify a complex world. Sometimes the rules apply and we can use them to help us learn more; sometimes they don't.

The references that I used for this post can be found by clicking on the blue writing.

Today I'm treading in the footsteps of these tree-bloggers Laura@patiopatch, Donna@gardenwalkgardentalk and Lucy@looseandleafy.

I'll be following this tree through the seasons and linking in with Donna Abel's Seasonal meme.

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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