23 October 2017

Tree Flowers: October 2017: Silver Birch

There are a lot of birches around, but I think this is a fairly young silver birch (Betula pendula). Young because the trunk hasn't yet developed the cracks that either (to my mind) either look wonderful, or make the tree look awful.

When I first got into bushcraft, this was the most interesting tree to me. Strands of trunk can be peeled off for tinder, without harming the tree. Around March the trunk can be tapped for sap, which can be used for wine or birch beer (although I've never made these). Also, it stands well when dead, making a good tree for harvesting when it came time to make a fire for cooking.

Being monoecious, both male and female flowers adorn the same individual. The catkins are present between April and May, with the green females are erect to collect pollen that blows in the wind. The male catkins are longer and hang in groups ready for gusts of wind to take the pollen from them.

Male and female catkins.
A closer look at a male catkin.

The wood of the silver birch is often used for internal joinery. With the tree itself providing food and shelter to many invertebrates and a few fungi, including the iconic fly agaric. Although they only survive for around 80 years, this is one of those poineer species that are the first to grow in barren areas, making the area more attractive to other species that can often take over the area as the birch reaches the end of its life.

There are many, many cultivars of the silver birch. Some with purpleish leaves, 'Purpurea'; some with deeply cut leaves, 'Dalecarlica'; and some with grow at columns, while others have a weeping growth. There is surely a silver birch for every garden!

16 October 2017

Book Review: Urban Botanics by Maaike Koster and Emma Sibley

This beautifully minimalist book is aimed at people wanting to add plants to their urban environments, such as living and work spaces.

After the brief introduction, the book has 4 chapters: Succulents, Cacti, Flowering Plants, and Foliage Plants. Each plant gets a double page spread, the left contains the simple and easy to follow growing instructions, which vary in length, written by Emma Sibley. On the right page, each plant is treated to a wonderful illustration from the paintbrush of Maaike Koster.

While I do like the minimalist nature of this book, I do feel that a bit more information could have been added to enrich the readers relationship to each plant. However, I liked seeing the native location information for each plant and the use of metric and imperial measurments, which is sure to keep everyone happy.

An example of the book layout.

The section on Cacti is very loose with the term, including cactus-like plants such as Euphorbias in the curated list. While some old common names are mentioned, there is nothing mentioned of the scientific name of the plant - something that can often arouse deeper interest in plants.

The book is great to look at and has been well written to be easy to follow. A wide selection of plants has been chosen from both hemispheres and I feel that there's a plant for most situations here. Cetainly a nice and brief read to feel closer to plants, either those you already have, or those you soon will!

09 October 2017

Book Review: Gardening on Clay by Peter Jones

This is an excellent beginner's guide to the plants that will perform well and reliably on clay.

The author not only trained at RHS Wisley, but was a head gardener in places such as Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds; so the man knows his stuff. However he is modest enough that for Roses, he sought advice from David Austin roses.

He writes in a readable and approachable style - even the always dreaded chapter on lawns wasn't as bad as expected (I love grass, but not lawns!). Illustrations are provided when necessary and the book provides many colour photographs.

The advice is basic, but purposely so. I imagine the author could have written an epic on gardening in and managing the joys of clay. I read this book because I have a clay garden (accurate at the time, see note below) and was happy to see that the majority of the plants I grow are listed in this book.

The book has chapters including trees, herbaceous plants, annuals, and roses. It would have been easy to list off many long lists just to show the extent of his knowledge, but the author restricts plant lists for each chapter to around 20 and provides advice for each.

The only thing that would have made the book better, personally speaking, would have been a more encyclopaedic layout of the plant lists with photographs for each plant - which would have saved me time searching on the Internet for examples of plants I didn't know. However, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone struggling to plant up a clay garden.

(Note: I seem to have a few posts that were still in draft after being written a while ago. This post was written in November 2015 - about time I posted it!)

06 October 2017

Friday Five: Signs of a good book (non-fiction)

One more page, becomes one more chapter. Repeatedly. 
This often happens to me. I get to where I want to stop and then 'sneakily' check where the chapter ends or how long the next chapter is. I put sneakily in inverted commas, because it's only myself that I'm trying to hide this from - and I fall for it every time!

Dozens of tabs and/or notes
For me, a good book will intrigue you about a topic - or often a particular plant - that you just need to find out more. This might be just to look at a photo, or it might be to consume whole Wikipedia pages about this new awesome thing. I tend to leave this until I've finished the book, so I don't disrupt the flow of the book and this tends to lead to dozens of sticky tabs littering the edges of the book pages.

You Tell Everyone
You just have to tell everyone about it. Even if you're not even half way through! I rate books on Goodreads and write reviews here to temper my enthusiasm - otherwise people would think I'm more of a pain than they do already!

The best books lead to other books.
As a reader of a lot of non-fiction, I'm always on the look out for new and awesome books (for me, primarily, about plants). So, I keep an eye out for the names of books in the main text, but also the references or recommended reading at the end of the chapter or book. I've found that this has led to many new great books.

You have to OWN the book!
The best books consume my mind throughout the reading process to the point that I need to have the book (or at the very least know that there are multiple copies available at the library). I envision where it will live on the shelf and how it will be used for blog posts or general reference.
I often pull out good books from my shelves just to flick through or to rediscover a piece of forgotten knowledge. A good day is on spent with a bunch of books circled around me.

This is normally where I embed a video that adds a bit extra to the topic at hand. I couldn't think of a video for this, so instead, I'm going to give you my 10 favourite non-fiction books according to the star rating I've given on Goodreads (descending from 5 stars):
  1. Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census by Emma Jolly
  2. Seeing Seeds by Teri Dunn Chace (Author) and Robert Llewellyn (Photographer)
  3. The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey
  4. Botany by James D Mauseth (the only book I regret selling)
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  6. James Wong's Homegrown Revolution by James Wong
  7. Wiltshire Folk Tales by Kirsty Hartsiotis
  8. What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamivitz
  9. Foundation: The History of England by Peter Ackroyd
  10. Solving Genealogy Problems by Graeme Davis
So, that's my list and the ways I know I'm reading a good book. What about you? What books are your favourites?

(Note: I wrote this post during January 2016, but it's been sat in my drafts. Finally got around to posting it!)