22 December 2014

Gardening with ME: A bit about ME

I've been wanting to write about my experience of ME for a while now and thanks to Gwenfar's Garden I have been inspired to get started! I'm joining her #GardeningWithME meme and future posts will be specifically about the trials and tribulations of gardening while managing ME. I have lots of ideas for future posts and will probably post around 1 every month or so during 2015. This first post is an introduction to how it all started with me.

15 December 2014

It's a boy!

I'm excited to write that we're expecting a boy!

We recently had the 20 week, or anomaly, scan. It was exciting to see the major bones being checked and some measured, as well as the brain, lips, heart, and stomach being shown and checked.

Our little meeple was so fidgety last time that it made the 12 week scan difficult and the measurement for the likelihood of down's syndrome couldn't be done (and was later checked by blood test). This time, however, he just wouldn't move! This means that one kidney and some of the spine couldn't be checked and we'll need to have another scan in a couple of weeks.

The sonographer stressed to us that it's very unlikely that there's anything wrong and everything that she checked was absolutely normal.

08 December 2014

Book Review: Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

This book is an excellent introduction to the life in our soils and how to treat it well. The book has 2 parts, the first being the organisms in the soil and the second covering the practical side of managing soil and using soil food web tools.

30 November 2014

Book Review: The Great British Year by Stephen Moss

This book accompanies the 2013 BBC series of the same title and follows the same format. The premise is that each chapter will follow the wildlife of the British Isles through a season.

As always with a BBC book, the photography is stunning. The narrative is also very accessible. BBC books rarely venture beyond introductory level, which can often make them rather boring to read; but this book was very readable and includes lots of interesting facts about the wildlife we are blessed with on our isles. The little facts really make the book for me: from reading that unlike some birds raptors only replace a few feathers at a time throughout the year, to finding out that seabirds can fall into the sea due to exhaustion and become known as 'wrecks'. From finding out that apart from bats, only two British mammals hibernate and they are the common dormouse and the hedgehog, to finding that the grey seals of Britain were the first species to be legally protected anywhere in the world.

This book contains some interesting maps too. They serve to show different aspects throughout the seasons, such as a map of water temperatures around Britain.

There is even a chapter, for those interested, documenting the behind the scenes experiences of the crew behind the cameras. However, I found a more interesting addition to the book being a wildlife resources section. This shows 20 places to watch wildlife in the UK and 40 different types of wildlife to see - from bluebells to cuckoos and is followed by a well compiled index.

This book was much better than I expected it to be and would recommend it to anyone interested in wildlife - whether you know a lot about it or are just starting to become interested - there's something for everyone.

24 November 2014

The Victorians and the case of the dead houseplants

Imagine yourself in the 1800s, Queen Victoria has been on the throne for a few years now. You've probably heard of a chap called Charles Darwin who's book about his jolly in the Beagle has been making the rounds. And you've probably heard of a new-fangled bicycle that allows you to pedal yourself around rather than pushing along with your feet on the ground.

Over the past few years gas lighting has been introduced, first in London and then Preston, Lancashire, but now it's gradually appearing in more homes. You've even recently installed it in your own home - but around this time you've noticed that all of your house plants have been dying.

So, you speak to some of your friends and they've heard that a particular species of plant does well even when all others have died.

Over time you eventually get a name of the plant and find that it's called Aspidistra elatior. This amazing plant can last up to 50 years even with minimal care, but what allows this plant to survive when others die?
By User:Nino Barbieri (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0
To answer that question, we need to ask another. What's in the gas that causes the other plants to die? Researchers found that part of the natural gas included ethylene. As well as being a colorless flammable gas, ethylene is also a plant hormone.

Plants use ethylene for many reasons, but the main two must be for ripening fruit and for the leaf abscission. Ethylene production is increased when a fruits seeds are ripe, but ethylene also increases when a fruit has been wounded; such a bruised or sliced. You may have heard the saying 'one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel' and this refers to that single apple being bruised or wounded in some way. This increases the amount of ethylene, which ripens all the other apples in the barrel - meaning that they go over very quickly!

As I mentioned above, ethylene is also used for leaf abscission. This is seen during autumn when the leafs of broadleaf trees change colour and then drop. The increase of ethylene causes that leaf to drop at this time. But, it doesn't have to be autumn for ethylene to make a plant drop its leaves. However, Aspidistra elatior, also known at the Cast Iron Plant, is unusually tolerant to ethylene.

So when all other house plants where dying due to the ethylene content of the gas used for lighting, the cast iron plant was happy as larry and continued to thrive, thus solving the case.

This made the plant so popular during the Victorian Era, that it's still known for its ethylene tolerance to this day.

Ethylene is just one of a few plant growth regulators. Click the links, ff you'd like to read about Auxin or Gibberellins.

17 November 2014

Beggars Knoll Garden, Wiltshire

This June we went to visit a fascinating garden near Westbury, Wiltshire.I wondered what such a garden would look like as it's near Westbury White Horse and is a very steep area, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

10 November 2014

Rhythm and Blue: Plant Circadian Rhythms

Anyone who's suffered from jet lag will know that circadian rhythms are an important process. But perhaps what you didn't know is that plants are also regulated by a circadian clock - and - that the same receptor is used in both plants and animals.

06 November 2014

In the Garden: Early November

Here are a few photos I've taken in the past few days!

The goodies I bought with my blog award winnings!

A lovely penstemon that recently came in to flower and a weigelia that's looking a bit washed out - but still trying.

Our hibiscus is also trying to flower again, but I'm not sure if these flowers will fully open as the temperature is all over the place at the moment. Last night and today have been particularly cold and it's finally feeling like autumn. To the right is the developing seed head on a clematis that we planted earlier this year.

This year I sowed some nigella seeds and they have performed really well. As well as the main burst of flowers, every few weeks one of the plants seems to come along with another (although very small) flower. I particularly like the seed head as with a little shake a lovely rattling sound it heard - I'm really hoping these will self-seed really well!

Hope you're all enjoying your garden too - even though it's getting colder now.

28 October 2014

Thank You

Our fireplace with a lovely cross stitch from my sister-in-law and a rose picked today from our garden.

Notcutts Loves Last week I found out that I'd won a blog award from Notcutts Garden Centres. I don't know who nominated me for the Wildlife blog award, but I wanted to say thank you!

This is the first award I've been nominated for or won, so it's a really nice feeling. Especially the £50 voucher I received for winning the Wildlife category - which led to a flutter of bookmarking!

As some of you will know, it's been a busy time for me lately, with my wife's severe pregnancy sickness and other things, so I've felt quite guilty that I haven't had the energy to keep up with the blog as much as I wanted to (stupid M.E). But, I have lots of ideas and hopefully normal service will resume presently!

So, I also wanted to thank everyone who's followed my blog for the past few years, especially those of you that provide the comments that motivate me to continue sharing my thoughts and studies. You're all wonderful and make the blogosphere a great place to be a part of.

For more information on the Notcutts awards, click here.

15 October 2014


Nearly 2 months ago my wife and I found out that she was pregnant!

We code named the baby "Meeple" after our love of boardgames, so that we could talk about the baby without anyone knowing! However, that didn't last too long as my wife came down with severe pregnancy sickness. This has meant that she's been bed bound for around 6 weeks and has lost nearly 2 stone in weight.

The pregnancy sickness seems to be calming down now and we had the 12 week scan last night and were happy to find that everything is progressing as it should! Our little meeple was very active and this meant that we got to see him/her for at least 10 minutes while the nurse tried to get the required measurements. In between these periods of activity, meeple would turn over and go to sleep - which turned out to be very unhelpful!

The benefit of the pregnancy sickness was that we got to see our little meeple at around 7 weeks as the GP needed to check that everything was ok and to find out if it was a multiple pregnancy that was causing the severity of the sickness. By last night the 7 week scan seemed like such a long time ago! It was wonderful to see meeple's heart beating away and to see such active movement.

Now is the wait until the 20 week scan and then finally the birth! We've been given a due date of 26 April.

Here's a copy of last night's scan showing meeple curling his legs up!

06 October 2014

Reflowering Phalaenopsis Orchid

I've posted a few times now about my Phalaenopsis orchid, here and here. I just wanted to write a quite post because, with this being my first orchid, I was really pleased that it grew a brand new flower stalk and put on an impressive flower display.

14 September 2014

Book Review: Botany Fifth Edition by James D. Mauseth

While it's taken me 15 months to read this book; I can't praise it enough. Sometimes it felt overwhelming and never ending, but that's because most of the concepts and ideas where things that I'd never read about before. Luckily the author knows Botany so well that even with the scientific terminology, he has been able to communicate the ideas at a level even I could understand.

This book is large, not only page-wise (652 before a good size glossary and index), but also physically (28.2 cm by 23.5), but not a single page is wasted. The author is keen to make sure the students not only understand plants, but also other organisms so that we can learn by comparison. The book is split into 4 parts covering Plant Structure, Plant Physiology and Development, Genetics and Evolution, and Ecology. Within these parts are chapters that break the material into sensible chunks and within these chapters are a set of features that make the book highly readable and very interesting. These include, part openers that introduce the part of the book, which are followed by concept section that introduces the reader to each chapter.

The author is also keen on students knowledge being expanded from the basics of Botany and as such other features include: Alternatives, which look at if what plants typically do can be done in other ways, such as photosynthesis without leaves. 'Plants Do Things Differently', are boxes that compare plant biology with human biology, providing comparisons on things such as 'Calcium: Strong Bones, Strong Teeth, but Not Strong Plants'. Plants and People boxes are essays on the way that plants and people influence each other, with topics such as, 'Controlled Growth Versus Cancerous Growth'. The final set of boxes are Botany and Beyond, which provide learning beyond the essential plant science material, including 'Cacti as Examples of Evolutionary Diversification'.

Something that really helped me get to grips with the written material are the stunning illustrations, from diagrams of cells and functions, often accompanied by micrographs showing the minute functions and parts of plants, to photographs chosen to provide a really clear visual aid.

This is not how I remember text books back from my school days. Either I just wasn't interested, which made the books boring, or the books were just boring! But this book has been written with passion and it comes through in the text and the choice of additional material and illustrations. Even for someone like myself, who became interested in Botany less than 3 years ago, this book provides information at an understandable level.

As with any scientific area, there is a lot of terminology in the text, but this is backed up with an accessible glossary. Each chapter comes with a set of questions. There is even a companion website, but I haven't used the code for that yet, as access it only for 1 year and I want to make sure I have time to really get the most out of it.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. For anyone that really wants to learn how a plant does what it does, then read this book. Sure, it might be tough going in places; but afterwards when you read botanical topics, it'll be easier to understand. I really appreciate that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law gave me this book as a Birthday present 2 years ago - especially as now I've finished reading it; I feel a real sense of achievement.

26 August 2014

Book Review: The First Eden by David Attenborough

This book is my souvenir from our recent trip to Brownsea Island. Along with a new NT shop, there is also a room of second hand books being sold for charity, and this is where I found this book.

This book (a companion to a television series of the same name) takes us on a journey around the Mediterranean, from the Gibraltar Straits at the western end all the way through to the eastern edge including Egypt and Turkey. From pre-history to modern times and encompassing a great deal of human and natural events.

Broken down into four chapters broadly covering natural history, archaeology, history, and ecology, this book provides information on a massive range of topics. In true David Attenborough style, the book revolves around various stories that highlight the point being made. Whether it's in the first chapter, The Making of the Garden, where we're told of the pigmy elephants and giant dormouse; or in the final chapter, Strangers in the Garden, where we follow the story of the aphid that destroyed a great many wine vineyards in the late 1880s.

The first chapter really entices the reader with the wonderful creation of the Mediterranean and giving us a glimpse of the animals and plants that have made their way to the islands and having found their niche, evolved and in some cases, sadly, become extinct there. From pigmy animals of hippo and elephant that lived on islands such as Malta, to the 50-odd species of beautiful orchids that live around the Mediterranean; life on, in, and around, the Mediterranean has been a busy one. Spectacles, such as the millions of jersey tiger moths that hang to the moss-clad rock in the Petaloudes Valley are surely a wonder of nature.

The second chapter allows us to investigate the archaeology and pre-history of the Mediterranean, including the wonderful artwork that adores the walls of caves. These are all of various animals, but non more important to these people than the bull - which allowed them to develop a rather fascinating religion. However, it was plants, such as the olive, that really allowed the people to live and prosper.

The third chapter delves into the history of the Mediterranean has been turbulent, showing us that war in the region is not just a recent occurrence. Territory passed from empire to empire, from Roman to Visigoth, to Huns, etc. All stripping the Mediterranean of  its resources in the never ending quest of solidifying and then extending the amounts of land (and people) under the control of the empire. The Moors, however, brought paradise to Spain, in the form of a garden - in Arabic the same word is used for both paradise and garden. Their management of water allowed stunning gardens to be made in places of little rainfall. When I think of the Mediterranean landscape, I see blank spaces of land with bits of scrub, but this book shows that the Mediterranean used to be a forested landscape that was cut down and destroyed in the name of warfare. In one particular battle, the battle of Lepanto, is has been calculated that for all the fleets fighting that day, over a quarter of a million mature trees will have been felled. What a waste of life - and that doesn't even include the human cost of such pointless battles or the loss of habitat for the other animals, plants, fungi, etc.

In the final chapter, Strangers in the Garden, we see how much humans have changed the Mediterranean. From the building of canals through countries, such as the Necho's canal and the modern day Suez canal, to shorten voyages - allowing the movement of aquatic species into new habitats that they would never naturally reach. Also the mass movement of plants into and out of the Mediterranean, which seems to have started in the 7th century and never stopped. However, Attenborough is an optimist and see that while the Mediterranean may, arguably, be the oldest humanised landscape, very few species have actually gone extinct. He posits that the Mediterranean should be the place that allows us to learn from our mistakes, and as the countries of the Mediterranean have come together to protect the wildlife in their waters - the countries of the world should take this example and come together to protect the Earth. amazing thinking for a book that was published in 1987 - just another example of the wonder that is David Attenborough.

18 August 2014

Anatomy of an apple - A Short Study

The apple is just one member of the massive Rosaceae family that contains over 2800 species located in 95 genera. Lots of these species are useful as food products and the apple must be among the most popular of these. The apple is also classified in a subtribe called Malinae. This subtribe contains around 1100 species in 28 genera, including hawthorn and cotoneaster. The fruits of Malinae are accessory fruits called pomes, which is derived from pōmum, which is latin for fruit.

As the saying goes "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", but where does this saying come from and what does it mean?
The earliest variant of the saying comes from a 1866 edition of the Notes and Queries magazine which states: "A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread." It's worth knowing that in Old English the word apple (æppel) could mean any type of fruit or just fruit in general.
However, we now know that it's not just a nifty saying. The apple contains many chemicals that are useful for us from vitamin C to a range of phytonutrients (substances found in plants that have nutritional value) that can mop up free radicals. Apples have also been used as a 'poster boy' recently to point out that everything is made of chemicals and that not everything man-made is terrible for us - click here to view.

The apple is abundant in our history; from apples bobbing being a traditional halloween activity to the cockney rhyming slang for stars (apples and pears). While never specified as an apple, most people associate the apple with the forbidden fruit of Genesis that Adam and Eve ate - however this may be due to the painters of the Renaissance needing some sort of fruit to paint. It is suggested that the Renaissance painters entwined the greek mythology of the tree of life and its golden apples with the Genesis fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The apple occurs so much in our history and folklore, that books could be written about it! For more information, try an Internet search. For now, let's move on to the anatomy of the apple.

Flower of an apple tree
The anatomy of fruits is interesting and the apple is a helpful fruit in helping to understand it. If you eat multiple apples off the same tree, or if you buy a brand of apples (such as Granny Smith apples which reputedly germinated from an Australian woman's compost heap); you know that the apples from a single tree/cultivar taste the same. 

This is because apples require cross-pollination, so the seeds of each apple may have been from pollen of many different trees (anthropomorphically speaking: from many fathers), all the apples from a single tree only have one mother. So, as the part of the apple we eat is developed only from the mother (1n), all the apples on a single tree will taste the same. As seeds are from both parents (2n), growing an apple tree from seed will lead to apples that taste different from both parents - sometimes this will lead to a tasty new variety; but often this is not the case.

An apple is known as an accessory fruit, meaning that not all of the fruit is from the ovary. In the case of apples (and pears), the fruit flesh is from the hypanthium. The hypanthuim is also known as the floral cup and is the base of the perianth (outer part of the flower) which connects the sepals, petals, and stamens. As you can see in the photo below, the hypanthium enlarges greatly after fertilisation and becomes the fleshy (and rather tasty) part of the apple. The pedicel is the stalk at the top of the apple, which originally held the flower and goes on to hold the fruit as it hangs from the tree.

The semi-circle mark on the left of the apple was left by something that got to the apple before me!

The flowers of the Rosaceae family often work in multiples of 5. In the flower photo above, you can see 5 petals and 5 anthers. In the fruit photo above you can see the marks of 10 stamen (apologies the the cut mark and the bug hole hiding 2 of them!) as well as 5 ovary chambers. 

So, the next time you eat an apple, be thankful for the enlarged hypanthium that is enriched with many phytonutrients that will keep you healthy and taste great!


Mabey, Richard. Flora Britannica. 1st edition. London: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.
Allaby, Michael. A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. 3 edition. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2012.
Apple Anatomy Cross-Section. 2014. Apple Anatomy Cross-Section. [ONLINE] Available at: http://appleparermuseum.com/AppleAnatomyCrossSection.htm. [Accessed 18 August 2014].

11 August 2014

Outdoor Swimming: Lulworth Cove, Dorset

On the final day of our mini-moon, we popped across to Lulworth Cove to have a gander and a swim. It's part of the well known Jurassic Coast and attracts around half a million visitors each year.

On our way to the cove we passed Stair Hole, which is a much smaller cove and suggests what Lulworth cove may have looked like a few hundred thousand years ago:
Stair Hole
The cove at Lulworth is made from 5 different types of rock: Portland Stone, Purbeck, Wealden, Greensand, and Chalk. The University of Southampton host some excellent pages on the geology of the cove on their website, click to view. Below is a photo of Lulworth cove and below that the (slightly wet) interpretation board describing the geology.

By the time we finally got down to the water line, I was definitely ready to get in and go for a swim. I tend to gently enter the water due to my chest reacting badly to the cold, but due to the uneven surface I sort of stumbled into the water!

I have to say that it was an amazing place to swim. At we walked down to the water we saw another lad quickly coming out of the water looking a bit worse for wear and heard his girlfriend telling someone he had to go in for a bet. It's the sort of thing that can lead people to being in trouble in the water and needing help. I also find it hard to understand why more people don't partake in a little outdoor swimming as it's such a great hobby.

While it's great that we all have different interests, I find it really important to find a way to connect with the land. So we did a couple of Earthcaches, to try and get an understanding of the place before I went for a swim. We often see people walking somewhere to take a photo and then wander off without really pausing to take in the view and/or the atmosphere and I feel that if they took time to form a deeper connection they'd get so much more out of it. for instance, I like to try to identify plants that are growing in the places we visit too - then I can get an understanding of what grows where and over time can make connections between very different types of land due to the similarities in flora.

I often wish I knew more about geology. Throughout the British Isles, the geology is often covered up. Coastal places are really the only places where we get to see a lot of the geology of the British Isles - and they're often geological wonders like the cover here at Lulworth. I've tried reading about geology, but haven't found anything that's either simple enough or really sparked an interest - but there is still time. Sometimes it's okay to know what you don't know and come back to it at a later date. Even though I know so little about the rocks here, it was amazing to spend some time observing the rocks and how they currently lay.

Here's me near the mouth of the cave. If I'd have had more energy I'd have really liked to reach the mouth as the waves were looking brilliant. Hopefully one day I'll have the energy to get some really sea swimming done. Until then, I have the amazing memories of this cove and the mesmerising action of the waves and a view of nothing but sea.

There is a car park nearby, which gets full quickly. There's also a nice little museum there that among other things; shows how the cave has changed over time and what is still to change.

If you'd like to visit this spot, click here. Already been here? It'd be great to hear your experiences in the comments.

28 July 2014

Book Review: Seven Ages of Britain by Justin Pollard

This is an important book for me because it's the first history book I read because I chose to. I was never interested in history, I wasn't keen on the way it was presented in school and didn't choose it as a GCSE subject. I think what changed for me was that I became interested in history the year I met my wife, Lucy. I lived in North Lincolnshire where not a lot has happened, but Lucy lived in Wiltshire, where things have been happening that are nationally and internationally important for thousands of years.

So, when I saw the television series featured a fair bit of history around Wiltshire, I started watching it. Since then, I've been interested in history and pre-history.

This book is a great introduction to the history of the British Isles from 'the ice age to the industrial revolution'. It's too short (paperback 316 pages) to be anything but an introduction. The selling point of the book is that it focusses on the normal people that don't often make history, but still had to live with it and the consequences. However, while I agree that the book does focus on normal people, living normal everyday lives, I disagree that they didn't make history. If they didn't, then this would be an even shorter book!

The stories told have been well chosen and the normal people made history in their own ways everyday. Whether it was the peasants revolt, or the beginning of mining, or even the invention of flint tools - it wasn't kings and queens that started these things. It was normal people just looking for a way to slightly improve their lives.  This improvement in the early days tended to be slightly changing the environment, from using wood from trees to make semi-permanent houses all the way to later times with cutting down vast tracts of woodland over generations to enable full-scale farming to develop.

I read this book for the first time in 2007 and have recently finished reading it for the second time. I've found it to be a really readable book and if anything it provides enough information to allow the reader to either be happy with what they now know, or to go and research each topic in further detail.

As I say, it's an introductory text, but it's not just for newcomers to history, but will perhaps provide a different viewpoint for people that have been deeply into our British history for years.

21 July 2014

A short walk around Brownsea Island

Brownsea Island is one of our favourite places. We enjoy the feeling of isolation, the chance to see red squirrels, and the amount of habitats available in such a small piece of land.

Brownsea is the largest of the islands within Poole Harbour, Dorset and one of the few remaining homes of the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in the UK. It is owned by the National Trust, however around half of the island is managed as a nature reserve by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

We've found that the best way to increase encounters with red squirrels on the island is to separate yourself from the other visitors - which is important as you'll be arriving with dozens of other passengers on one of the ferries that travel to the island. After that, just walk slowly and quietly and you're likely to see the squirrels either in the trees or gathering food on the ground. This time we had a few geocaches to find near the church, so this ensured that we were mostly on our own.

I had placed the camera down to help Lucy find the geocache, which was about 5 metres away, when a red squirrel joined us. It was taking quite an interest in our bag (and camera, which I now couldn't get to without scaring away the squirrel!), before hopping up to us and sitting face height on a stump. It was a wonderful experience. After a few moments it gently hopped away again. We managed to see a few squirrels during our walk, including this one:

Talking about the different habitats, heathland it just one that visitors will encounter on the island and we saw the heath speedwell (Veronica officinalis) that created a lovely carpet of delicate colour - one that this green woodpecker (Picus viridis) was also enjoying; but for other reasons! Along with this Mouse-ear-hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum)

As we headed towards the beach we saw some other interesting species such as this English stonecrop (Sedum anglicum), spiral wrack seaweed (Fucus spiralis), and of course the very pretty oyster catcher (Haematopus ostralegus); which posed for some photos before having an afternoon nap.

I think we found three geocaches this time around which took us around the National Trust side of the island. It's amazing that within a few steps of having a panoramic view of the harbour, you suddenly have a completely different view - such as this path with coniferous trees.

One of a few geocaches available to find on the island.
Having a sit down and some lunch on the beach we saw what looks like an old kiln from the pottery activity of 100 years ago (lack of demand and poor quality clay resulted in this being a short endeavour). There's lots of evidence of these activities in the fragments of pottery being found along the beach. We also made ourselves a friend in this black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), who was quite happy to walk up to us and seemed quite tame.

We slowly walked back to the ferry and spent a few minutes in the new gift shop - which has a nice second hand book collection; which included the David Attenborough book The First Eden, which I picked up for a couple of pounds. The ferry back takes passengers on a tour around the harbour and it seemed much longer than previous times we've been on it - lasting for nearly an hour. But it's such a lovely place to be, interesting scenery and history, that we didn't mind.

Of course, I can't end this post without showing you one of the other famous species on Brownsea Island; the Peacock

15 July 2014

Book Review: God's Acre by Francesca Greenoak

Cross-over post: This is a post that I wrote last week for a project I'm involved with called the Living Churchyard Project. If you'd like more information, feel free to visit the blog: http://stgileslivingchurchyard.blogspot.co.uk/

Front cover of God's Acre
by Francesca Greenok
Illustrated by Clare Roberts.
Prior to the weekend just gone, I had no idea a book like this existed. It was given to us as a wedding gift by one of our churchyard friends. Francesca's beautiful flowing prose is only matched by the detailed, yet minimal drawings and watercolours provided by Clare Roberts.

The author visited over two hundred churches while collecting material for this book and the detail provided in the text makes this apparent - as each page is full of gems. It's lovely to see that while a lot of churchyard match our own in terms of species, there are differences in species and usage in the churchyards of England and Wales.

The book is laid out in five chapters, the first being History and Heritage. Throughout the book Francesca makes obvious, yet thought provoking points about how our churchyard are used and about the connection of churchyard with wildlife. She makes is clear that it is desirable for wildlife and civilisation to exist in harmony. The research that the author has done for this book is clear throughout, especially in the choices of quotes used, including this one from Pope Gregory the Great that 'people would 'continue to frequent the same sacred places' even if the altar there was dedicated to a new god'. It was also interesting to find that at one point in history it was illegal to donate land to the Church, although it was again legal by the time of George III. We manage our churchyard with grass of primary importance, so it's humbling to know that managing churchyards as a meadow is a traditional practice. As such we can expect to see at least some of the plants and animals that were present in the historic churchyards.

Which brings us on to chapter 2 of Churchyard familiars. I'm a fan of ivy, so was pleased to see that the author chose to speak of ivy as a plant that is good for wildlife throughout the year. Another familiar in churchyards, including ours, is that no matter how it is managed for wildlife there always seems to be a stretch of grass that is always well trimmed on either side of the lych-gate all the way to the porch.

The third chapter talks of the churchyard being a place of sanctuary and survival. I hadn't realised that throughout history people have always been able to find sanctuary within the churchyard, but these days, perhaps more importantly, it is other kingdoms of life that required the safety of a churchyard to survive. This includes the tens, sometimes hundreds, of species of lichen that survive within the grounds of a churchyard, when they cannot survive anywhere else. This is often because churchyards are out of the way and face fewer problems with pollution, but also because the churchyard tends to stay the same for decades or hundreds of years, allowing wildlife to make a home without being disturbed.

For many this is a cause of celebration and ceremony, which is the topic of the fourth chapter. Something that the author points out is so obvious that I hadn't thought about it before and now wonder why it had never come to mind, is that some plant species are in the churchyard because they were used inside the church. Some species such as lady's mantle managed to survive or set seed when they were discard from floral decoration within the church. Other species, such as holly and ivy were grown because they were used at certain ceremonies through the Church year. A wonderful tradition, that I'd never seen, but could picture well because of Francesca's wonderful description is the rush-baring procession whereby the floor covering of rushes would be changed in late summer. This takes place as a community event, which is the discussion of the final chapter of the book.

In the community and conservation chapter, the author points out that most people are totally unaware of the species within the churchyard, but when told are not only interested, but concerned. This is especially the case with species considered as rarities, but I hope even common species would be of concern as the churchyard is often 'a shaded fountain in a parched desert' as Francesca quotes W. H. Hudson at the close of the book.

An appendix of plants with religious names and associates follows two churchyard surveys.

This book was a real pleasure to read and provides so much information within such few pages - but doesn't overwhelm. Instead the words and illustrations only serve to inspire the reader to a deeper appreciation of the churchyard as a place not only for wildlife, but for us to enjoy wildlife.

07 July 2014

Tree Following: Rowan

A couple of months ago I introduced our Star magnolia. This time, we'll have a look at the rowan tree in our garden.

We moved into our house in November 2009 and on the 5 December of the same year there was a nationwide project called Tree O' Clock. At least 230,000 trees were planted during that single hour in 2009 and I'm glad to say that two of them were planted in our garden, a cherry and the focus of his post a rowan tree.

Me and our Rowan.

Moving swiftly on to 2014 and the rowan has put on great growth and for the first year it had multiple flower heads, rather than the single one of last year.

We only had a single fruit on the tree last year - which isn't surprising for such a young tree. It was interesting to see the single berry that remained on the tree, which start as a yellow-green colour before turning red, lasted well into spring. However, the berry is more correctly termed a 'pome' which is the type of fruit, which include apples, made by this subtribe of the Rosaceae family.

The rowan or mountain ash is a member of the utterly massive Rosaceae family which consists of more than 2800 species across 95 genera. The buds are covered in a hairy felt that fades over time.

When the serrated-edged leaves appear they are arranged in pairs along a central vein, which ends with a terminal leaf.

The flowers are a beautiful yellowish-white colour and are arranged on a pannicle-like structure called a corymb. As you can see in the photo below there are many flowers within the inflorescence. There are 5 roundish petals and many stamens surround the carpels.

Next time I'll give an update on both of my trees and may try to find some larger specimens of the star magnolia and a rowan, so I can see what my trees may eventually look like!

Until then, have a look at some of the other trees being followed this year throughout the world - over on Loose and Leafy:
Tree-following is kindly hosted by Lucy Corrander of Loose and Leafy.

24 June 2014

Outdoor Swimming: Knoll Beach, Studland

After a couple of days to rest after our wedding, we went for a short honeymoon (or as Lucy calls it; a mini-moon) to Dorset. On the first day we stopped at Sand Banks to eat our pack up by the harbour before taking the chain ferry across to Studland.

One of the great things about this area of Dorset is nature reserve rolls into nature reserve - and rightly so; it's a gorgeous part of the country. We decided to park at Knoll beach, which is part of Studland Bay and owned by The National Trust. As members, parking was free, but we've heard that charges change with the season. For members, as well as your car sticker, make sure you take your membership card. There is plenty of parking - all from no more than 20 metres from the beach.

Apparently Studland was Enid Blyton's inspiration for Toytown - a nice fact for any Noddy fans out there!

It was a bit cold that day, so I wasn't too keen on having my first outdoor swim of the year, but I eventually braved the temperature and got my swimming shorts on. Over the years I've found that the best way for my body to accept being in cold water, is to take it slow and steady when immersing myself. This wasn't a problem here, as I had to walk quite a distance for the water to be above my kidneys. The descent is very shallow and the water very clear.

Me and Old Harry.

As soon as I started swimming, I realised that it was the best thing to be doing. It was wonderful to be heading toward Old Harry Rocks and viewing the stunning Purbeck Hills to the right. To the left was Bournemouth, easily recognisable due to the massive helium balloon that is the Bournemouth Balloon!

Ahead of me, though, there was a surprise interrupting the never ending sea; the chalk cliffs of the Isle of Wight.

Isle of Wight in the distance.

It was such an amazing place to swim. While I was there, I noticed that the current gently took me towards Old Harry Rocks, which is fine as there's plenty of beach to aim for when you're ready to turn back.

Redend Point.

Afterwards a good cup of tea warmed me up sufficiently for a gentle wander along the beach, where we saw black-headed gulls and the odd crow. We also saw some people going through the rock pools with nets, but they didn't seem to be having much luck. What was interesting to us was the cliffs and what seems to be red-stained sandstone of the Poole Formation. As you can see there are lots of small holes in the stone. I did see some sort of bee enter one of the holes, but it didn't appear after a few minutes, so we moved on. Looking online it looks like the holes are made by burrowing mortar bees.

It was a wonderful day at Studland Bay, one I hope we will repeat in the future.

If you'd like to visit this spot, click here. Already been here? It'd be great to hear your experiences in the comments.