Tag Archives: nature

Margate by the Sea: an unexpected delight

We went to Margate to visit the new(ish, 2011) Turner Art Gallery and the Grayson Perry exhibition.

We were slightly disappointed by its architecture – not the shape but the colour – dull grey. Apparently when opened it was coloured by banners but not now and whilst the sun was shining – quite remarkable for this end of summer this year, we could envisage it being very dull indeed on a wet grey day by the sea.85-turner-contemporary

It is positioned right at one end of the huge series of bays that form the Margate sea front. By the harbour wall of what was once Meregate a small fishing village . it has been inhabited since probably pre-historic times and certainly the Romans lived there but constant invasions made life difficult during the 8th, 9th and 10th century.

Margate is situated on the coast of the Isle of Thanet, which of course, hasn’t been an island for a long time. But it was still an island when the Romans lived there and a bridge wasn’t built until the 1400s. In the 1700s you could still reach it by ferry, but the channel silted up and Reculver is now on dry(ish) land. The land still needs to be defended against the sea trying to gain its channel back and so there are sea defences all along the coastline.

Margate – which is on the outer edge and thus faces the English Channel, was part of the Cinque Ports through the control of Dover, but became independent from their control in 1857.

It is claimed to be one of, if not the first, coastal resort for sea bathing which greatly changed its status from a fishing (smuggling) harbour to a fashionable bathing town bringing with it not only boats carrying traffic down river from London but eventually also the railway. Turner lived in Margate for some years coming down by boat from London and then leaving by boat to cross the channel from there. Very convenient – and thus the Turner Gallery was built here.isle of thanet

However, after the flush of post war holidays in seaside resorts within Britain and then the holiday camps of Butlins  and Pontins etc decline in the 1970s, when cheap Spanish holidays came in for the masses, Margate declined.

I went to this area of coastline often as a child staying at Broadstairs, just along from Margate in a bed and breakfast establishment of which there were huge numbers. These high terraced houses are now in sad repair but, since 2011 and the Turner Gallery, some are being bought up and refurbished and becoming boutique hotels such as the Crescent Victoria where we stayed, just along from the Gallery.

The Isle of Thanet has a most amazing coastline. It is really all sand and yet more sand. Great depth of beaches that are shallow in slope so good for kiddie play which is why the area was so popular when I was a child. And now there is a seawater pool in the middle of one beach for safe swimming.

Margate is tatty round the edges but has some interesting areas around the Old Town where they seem to specialise in vintage clothes and furniture. We found two really nice places to eat – Harbour Café which did the most amazing chips; and the Ambrette which is a modern Indian – even does roast Sunday lunches with venison and other exotic meats. However, rather lacking in vegetarian food which was a shame. Still good reviews from the meat eaters – even some suggesting it is worth a Michelin Star!

And then of course there is the Shell Grotto. No visit to Margate is complete without a visit to this very interesting but unexplained and without know history, underground cavern.shell-grotto

Stories about when it was created range from the Phonoecians in very early history (yes they did trade with the UK) as a religious place – with an altar at the far end of these underground passageways. Or a Folly of course. Or something else entirely.

What is certain is that all the shells apart from 4 are English, it has been around a few hundred years and has been open since the 19th century to the public, and the shells have been added, altered etc at different times but some are clearly very old. Many of the patterns are symbolic eg A Tree of Life; A Corn Goddess; A Ganesha; A skeleton; A Perseus and so on….

Spooky as it is all underground and quite large – 104 feet.

What is a really nice thing to have is the Viking Trail. This is coastal path for bikes and pedestrians which is very smooth and wide and goes all around the island’s coast passing through Ramsgate and Broadstairs and Reculver too. It is 25 miles in length so you can run a marathon if you wish – but the one running when we were there did a figure of 8 and came back to its start!viking trail

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Gardens and New England: is a lawn a garden?

On a recent visit to New England I looked especially for what I could see people were growing in their gardens – being that kind of nosy person as I am when it comes to gardens..

Admittedly it was a particularly cold winter and spring was only just arriving – indeed we were told by a native that the snow had only just melted on his drive, but the range of plants seemed remarkably small.

There were lots of magnolias but only 3 varieties – soulangeana, a few nigra and white stellata. And there are some 200 plus varieties possible! Some varieties actually come from the US – mostly grandiflora – the ones that have shiny leaves, are non-deciduous and flower in the summer on a sunny wall site,; and the others mostly from South America. Though in a woodland garden my envy grew very green indeed as I spied several yellow magnolias in flower.

This is a standing gripe of mine – I once saw a yellow magnolia in flower at Kew and ever since wanted one for myself. Normally I don’t like yellow flowers much but I set my P1030253 magnolia-yellow-river P1030241heart on a yellow magnolia.

When we reconfigured our front garden I set out to buy one for it. I had just the right space for a nice mid-sized tree. I scoured the Internet, asked Kew and the RHS – who did sell one but it wasn’t in stock and… In the end a Cornish nursery who specialised in rarer shrubs and from whom I had bought our pink ceanothus shrubs came up with one. A light yellow but still… we waited and it didn’t flower. But it was young and so another spring came round and lo one bud appeared, but a creamy white flower appeared… it’s young, next year maybe it will be yellow. Next spring came and more buds appeared, yes it was going to flower well. Lovely flowers opened but still pale cream. Yellow River wasn’t living up to its name at all! Could I encourage better yellow I asked the RHS? No, was the reply… and then, to cap it all, the nursery I had bought my tree from sent me a new catalogue with about a dozen yellow varieties to choose from! Ugh…

Our Yellow River is not quite as yellow as in this picture though… the other two magnolias are ours as they flowered this year.

So what else was growing in these New England gardens? Some small dwarf rhododendrons in purple, and  one bright pink, no other colours despite many rhododendrons originating in the US. Lots of forsythia. Cherry trees. Judas trees. Daffodils – in standard sizes and colours – dwarfs, no whites no frills. A few tulips. Some grape hyacinth. A few pansies. And grass. Acres of grass. And yet more grass. No hedges with plots running into each other both in front of houses and in their back ‘yards’ or gardens.  Sometimes some scrubby woodland but no woodland flowers.

We learnt what happens at the back from a friend who had lived in his house for over 20 years – since it was built in fact and yet he had only just started his first garden – the rest was grass – yes 5 acres of it. He had planted 3 small cherries and a small flower bed round his front door and was very proud of it as his neigh ours had nothing like it. Yet he had a stream running through the end of his garden which we would have loved to landscape.

We passed a few nurseries on the roads and they did seem very small and with few plants on display and really felt, that despite the winter temperatures – our friends said that they claimed that only conifers would grow – they had not explored the potential. It is true that my favourite winter clematis would not grow there but surely they could do better.

So here is where I started researching what they could have grown – looking initially at clematis of course.  And then some others out of interest and to complement. I will be writing a special article about clematis in the US for a journal so I need not to pre-publish here…

The USA Horticultural Society publishes a zonal map of the USA which indicates what zone a place is in terms of hardiness of plants. This is very important as many plants will not survive very low winter or very high summer temperatures.  There is both a heat zone map and a hardiness map to look at.  So when purchasing a plant you need to consider both extremes.  So for instance if you look at the hardiness rating you can purchase for Boston many of the same clematis as I have in my garden eg Westerplatte and Polish Spirit. For New York it is trickier as it will depend on where you are in the NY area, but generally it is the warmest rating similar to Boston where -15 C  is the lowest temperature likely.

Now in our own garden we have had these types of winter temperatures occasionally so we could expect most clematis to survive the winters. However, as many people will have realised this summer, it is the heat and lack of water that can affect clematis, many of mine have had very short flowering seasons and have shrivelled up seedheads and started losing leaves without enough rain (here in my area of London we have missed just about every rain cloud in the last 2 months..).

So what could you grow in New England to supplement these few I saw…

Here are a few suggestions:

“Star magnolia is well known for its resistance to winter cold and grows well in USDA zones 4 through 8. Saucer varieties (M. x soulangeana) are also popular magnolia tree owing to their prolific flowering displays; they too are cold hardy and can be planted in USDA zones 4 through 9. In areas susceptible to late frosts, select the later-blooming cultivars “Lennei” or “Alexandrina.” Magnolia hybrids such as “Betty,” “Pinkie” and “Ricki,” created by crossing M. liliiflora with M. stellata, display cold resistance to USDA zone 5, and are also later bloomers, making them less susceptible to late frost damage. If you are set on planting a Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) in a colder region, “Bracken’s Brown Beauty” is cold-hardy variety.” http://homeguides.sfgate.com/magnolia-trees-cold-temperature-65541.html

I have tried to find a clearer list of plants but mostly the sites just say to ‘look at the plant label’ in the nursery and I have tried search the US Horticultural Society too – interestingly they do not list a national clematis society so perhaps this is a plant that does not grown well on a national scale – or there is not a great deal of interest in it. All that I have managed to dredge up so far is a list of when you can expect the first frost in the year – and they are remarkably specific dates! Eg if you live in Baltimore you can expect your first frost on the 17th of November,  but if you live in Charleston  it will be on the 10th of December, but it will be the 11th if you live in Houston! Such specificity….

So failing in any details available from the USA itself I fall back on the RHS who have provided us with a hardiness rating for plants which goes down to minus 20. Not enough for all of the US but works in the UK!

So here are some plants that will survive -20: Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, selections of Potentilla fruticosa, Erica carnea and Calluna vulgaris cultivars. Ginkgo biloba, Hosta, Lilium, Polemonium caeruleum, and Viburnum × burkwoodii are also likely to survive most cold temperatures.

My final search was in the plant finder offered by the RHS where I searched for the most cold, drought and wind resistant plants and found 149 that they could recommend – a lot were shrubby of course eg Berberis or from the pinus family but they also recommended some Geraniums, Lychnis, Japanese anemones, achillea, ferns, certain grasses eg stipa, papavers, aquilegia and campanula, and of course we must be reminded that tulips will not flower unless they are cold when in the bulb.

So what could you grow in the heat? The heat zone is defined as the number of days the area receives on average more than 30C. Boston and New York are around 100 days or 3 months plus.

Cold and heat together are tricky for plants of course but you can water and prepare plants for both through good planting, mulching and cold protection with sacking let alone fleece or a greenhouse! Don’t forget shading from the sun as this can help too. And check the micro-climates in your garden – we have at least three plus a frost passage n ours which means we plant differently in different areas and have now created a shaded passageway as well.

You can then look up for heat resistant plants of course and I would strongly recommend learning from nature here California and go to the stunning https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bancroft_Garden botanical garden in Walnut Creek and just see what you can grown in near drought conditions. When I visited I actually met Ruth very briefly as she was pottering around in the garden. We were taken around by a very knowledgeable docent and loved every minute of our visit. And as a result we grow several Agaves and Aloes in our hot spot and they are doing really well…agave

Lamiums and song thrushes; cloth and healthy tea

Lamiums are a very useful type of ground cover. In many shades including white, pink, red and even yellow, they flourish under trees and in deep shade and poor soil especially the yellow form which still has Archangel in its name. Although apparently a distant member of the nettle family they do not sting but spread easily through seed or roots systems  and provide colour from early Spring until late Summer.

Early spring when the lamiums begin to flower is also the time the song thrush should begin to sing.

The stinging nettle is actually from the urtica family and therefore is a different plant and has numerous health benefits according to many including being:

diuretic, astringent, pectoral, anodyne, tonic, rubefacient, styptic, anthelmintic, nutritive, hermetic, anti-rheumatic, anti-allergenic, decongestant, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and anti-histamine, anti-lithic/lithotrophic, herpetic, galactagogue, and an anti-histamine. – See more at: http://naturalsociety.com/29-nettle-tea-benefits-health-herb/#sthash.YcmiD6Uk.dpuf

Aaron Hill [1685-1750] says in his Verses Written on a Window in Scotland:

Tender-handed stroke a nettle,

And it stings you for your pains;

Grasp it like a man of mettle,

And it soft as silk remains

Traditionally the silk aspect relates to the fact that you can make a cloth out of nettle fibres – see http://nettlecraft.com/Nettle_Fibres.php. You need to ‘rett’ the nettles, that is soak for a very long time in order to remove the fibre but the resulting cloth is similar to linen.

Lamiums are not noted for any health benefits and so are usually cultivated only for their grand cover.

yellow nettle lamium_album_white_dead_nettle

 

 

My Almanack for the 19th January says that in 1640 John Parkinson wrote in his Theatrum Botanicum that:

The Dead Nettle  or Achangell. ..The flowers of the white Archangells are preserved or conserved daily to be used to stay the whites, and those of the red to stay the reds in women, and is thought good to drive away melancholy, and to quicken the spirits.

Canaries in the nest and up the mountains….

We have just come back from a trip to the Canary Island some of the time on La Palma island and some of the time in Tenerife staying with some friends. These friends have a large patio attached to their flat on the second floor and have several large bushes of local varieties (including a 10 foot high Strelitza which we gave them last time we visited and which has grown very well indeed…) and the local wild Canaries (yes they really do come from there!) have nested in their bushes. We spent the morning and early evening watching them in the nest as the parents came and went and the little ones spread their wings and balanced on the edge of the nest. Which it turned out was a bad idea as one over-balanced, tried to fly and couldn’t and thus fell onto the patio and broke its neck :(.

Wild canaries are more speckled than their caged brothers and also more green.

On a better note we also have a nest (or more but one we have a camera in so we are sure of) of blue tits in our next box.

This is proving endlessly entertaining as we see the parents feeding the hungry little ones. When we left there were just 3 eggs in the nest – and mother came and laid one a day and then flew off… clearly though she had been busy whilst we were away as 6 or 7 have hatched and we think there are 2 or 3 more eggs still in the nest underneath the mass.  She has endless difficulty getting them safely under her body for brooding as there are so many of them, and what will happen as they grow and the other eggs hatch, I just don’t know.

P1010809 P1010752 P1010790 P1010735

Here are some pictures of the little ugly ones… so embryonic and the little tufts on their heads are so cute! I will keep you all informed of their progress and photos will appear as we get good ones. We actually managed to catch one hatching as it is a live video stream which we then capture on camera as the pictures pass… a bit tricky hence the poor quality but!

Back to the Canary Islands.

We landed on Tenerife which was 20 degrees in the evening and went to the Hotel Reveron in Los Cristianos. This hotel has a 6 storey stained glass atrium!

Atrium P1010353

Our ferry across to La Palma was not until the next morning so we had the following day in Los Cristianos wandering around and walking to Playa de las Americas. All the beaches except for one (maybe imported?) have black volcanic sand with some rocks and rock pools. Behind the beaches are sand dunes which in many places are a Reserve with many unusual plants.

Books disagree but there are between 500 and 1000 endemic plants to the Canary Islands some being just small variations on others but still. I am trying to track down the names of these wild plants as I post them as they were so wonderful to see such variety and lushness in places and desert scrub and mountain terrains in others. Of course the landscape is very varied due to the volcanic eruptions and slides but the islands are all peaks on a large volcanic sub-bed which almost links them in places (see Lanzarote and Fuerteventura on the map below) but also provides for shallow water good for fishing. There is a new island gradually forming too.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6GHox-KeF4 for more details.

volcanic map

It might be worth mentioning as in this blog (http://modernsurvivalblog.com/volcano/300-foot-tsunami-and-east-coast-destruction/) that if there was a big blow out in the Canaries there is potential for a major disaster including a Tsunami larger than any previous that would inundate New York! Do remember that this is still a very active volcanic area…. El Hierro was acive in March 2013 (http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=383020&bgvn=1&rnum=region18&snum=canary&wvol=hierro)

Next morning we took the ferry at 7am across to La Palma via La Gomera. We didn’t land  on this island but are told it is worth a day’s trip

Spring is bouncing merrily in the garden

 

Euphorbia

 

 

This time last year (31st March) it snowed. And a Japanese magazine came to photograph it. What they actually photographed was the snow, me digging in the snow, and me tending plants in the garage bundled in a red duvet coat.

This week a reader of that same magazine article clutching a copy of the article under her arm, came to to visit the garden. It was cold but the sun came out and the flowers were wonderful.

Flowers in March 2014 march31st 2014 020 march31st 2014 021 march31st 2014 023 march31st 2014 024 march31st 2014 026 march31st 2014 027 march31st 2014 028

Ten – yes 10! I counted them – clematis are now in flower. The crab apple framed a view from the back walk through the pond meadow and grass bed to the back of the house and patio and pots with tulips.

  • Jim’s wedding cake tree with blossom forming on every branch was central to that view.

Some daffs and hellebores are fading but still many are flowering including flowers for early bees such as pulmonaria (the solitary bee proving very hard indeed to photoghraph with its proboscis extended) and comfrey and then there’s bergenia, epimediums and cyclamen still flowering since November (same plant).

I always the love the intake of breath and often an accompanying explanation that you can get from visitors when they come through our garden gate and look down from our patio (which is several feet above the rest of the garden) to the end taking in the water features and different beds and paths wandering through them.

So now off to Tenerife for a few weeks to see the mountain flowers there.. look out for them when I return!

Chicktastic! First of the year?

Walking in Regent’s Park this morning – yes March 2nd – we saw the first ducklings of the year – 6 beautiful little coloured chicks from the Egyptian Geese.

Egyptian Geese and Chicks 2nd March 2014 20140302_125914

The mother was very anxious, quacking constantly, and Daddy stayed close too, not surprising really when the twitchers were saying that 5 juvenile peregrine falcons were flying low over the lake this very morning! Though usually peregrins prefer pigeons they may have been interested in a small snacket…

The geese also shouted at the moorhens and coots and anyone who got too close to their precious little ones. But curious pigeons were shooed off by one little chick! An aggressive little male no doubt..

This is really very early indeed to see chicks out and about..!

The goose is related to the shelduck and is very small and compact for a goose. Although originally brought in as ornamental birds they are now feral breeding quite successfully around and about – with several pairs on the Thames too. The RSPB estimate some 1100 pairs breed in the UK every year.

Each pair lays between 5 and 12 eggs which hatch after 28-30 days, so this pair must have started late January which is at the extreme beginning of the breeding season for them – they often breed right into May.  The female incubates while the male guards. The chicks take 2 years to become sexually mature.

They eat  a variety of plant matter including grasses, seeds, shoots, leaves, grain and crops. They also takes food items from shallow water, including algae and aquatic plants, and sometimes animal matter such as worms. So ideally suited for living in a park. They didn’t mind humans as after all they feed them  interesting bread stuff.

The herons had started sitting on their nests too and one inhabited nest  looked as though it would soon fall out of the tree it was so large and at such an angle – but no doubt the twigs were firmly woven in.

Lovely to see all this wildlife in the middle of the city surrounded by wonderful flowers too – amazing how many species are in bloom all at the same time. Even anemone de caen which should flower in April/May were out in full bloom amongst the snowdrops, daffodils, crocii and  other spring bulbs plus primroses, dwarf iris and various bushes including verbena bodnantense and one or two flowers on a ceanothus  bush too. Not to mention all the London not so wild life called tourists!

A lovely if briskly chill morning to be out and about.

Going up: How do my Passions Bounce?

The 60 second zerotohero challenges. I decided that a good idea would be to write up my challenges as I go along. So this post covers several as I have been away and today am confined to bed after an injection in my foot. Catch-up time… So I have completely changed my ‘About’ page. I have renamed some widgets and have been into the blogosphere to find some new topics and blogs. I looked around the zerotohero bloggers as they cover such a great variety of ideas and went from link to link being inspired by what people were writing. However, I did find that most people were much narrower in their topic areas but I am an eclectic type of person. I like an eclectic variety of arts, crafts, books, and topics. I am curious like a cat and my list of things I  passionate about clearly shows this. No tram lines for me. I meander where my bounces take me and rarely in a straight line.. 1. Description of me. I am passionate about so many things and this challenge was where I found this out. Too many things.. that is why my blog is so eclectic! I just decided to list all the things here: in no particular order.

  • Books
  • More books
  • Music
  • Theatre
  • Art
  • Gardens
  • Plants
  • Flowers
  • Interesting flowers in interesting gardens
  • Life
  • Walking if not rough underfoot or too far. Especially along canals, rivers,lakes, gardens
  • Family -my husband, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, three grand-daughters
  • Cooking and eating, cooking through tacit knowledge and experimenting
  • Reading about cooking
  • Restaurants
  • Travelling – not the travel but the arrival, New experiences, New cities, exploring new places.
  • London!!!
  • Locality- improving my local high street.
  • Research.

I write about most of these but not all. Some things that make me who I am I don’t, and won’t, write about as they are too personal to me.

So who am I? I am she. She who is small and round and challenged by life to do the best she can with what she has. She who tries to bounce rather than sag and crawl. She who stretches her mind and refuses to admit even physical limits until life pushes back. She who loves and is loved. She who has been fortunate to recognise when opportunity knocked and has understood how to answer the knock – with hard work and perseverance and bounce back attitude.

The next 60 second challenge was to describe my blog.

My blog is about sharing my passions. To explore my experiences and share them in the hope that the person reading my blog will find the same joy in my passions as I do. To bounce through an eclectic collection of thoughts, pictures, and places.

The final challenge was to talk about my important life events. But. For me these are not for sharing. They are my private griefs and loves and will not appear in my blog. Suffice to say I have had my share of both and if you, my reader become my friend, I might tell you about some of them – in private.

I have challenge 6 and 7 to complete. 8 is here and 9 and 10 but these need some technical exploration first. So here’s to my next instalment of becoming a less camouflaged Tigger …