29 April 2012


Do you recognise these numbers? What sort of sequence they form? Of course you do: it's a (or should I say the?) Fibonacci Series, displayed on the wall of a design firm in Dublin. It's a quirky and lovely thing; I presume it's there to tell all that the designers within are familiar with the golden mean (1.61803…) and are practised practitioners of proportionate and elegant designs.

The notion of the golden mean has been around for a long time, applied to painting and architecture (and even to the construction of a sonnet, see Don Paterson's introduction to his 101 Sonnets, From Shakespeare to Heaney).
Fibonacci sequence

You may notice water running down the sign--more about that anon--but note too the spiral ironwork, which brings me to these:

Fibonacci fern, Pteridium aquilinum, unfurling
(photo by BvG)

Fibonacci shell
Walking the woods last weekend, the stitchwort was blooming, the fresh beech leaves translucent, and the ferns were unfurling. This last brought the Fibonacci spirals to mind, seen in the ferns, but also in shells, ammonites, even galaxies. Fabulous. The ability to decipher, appreciate and even enjoy Mathematics skipped a generation in my family, moving directly from my father to my two sons. They all appreciate that, as Graham Farmelo says:
"Great equations ... share with poetry an extraordinary power -- poetry is the most concise and highly charged form of language, just as equations are the most succinct form of understanding of the aspect of physical reality that they describe."
from It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science

I do remember solving equations and being delighted at the elegance of the solution, which could only come to one conclusion; but that was a long time ago, and now I reserve my delight for things I can understand more easily, like Fibonacci spirals, or 60 degree angles on basalt columns...

But back to the woods:

Stitchwort, Stellaria holostea

Fresh! Translucent beech leaves, Fagus sylvatica
That glimpse of the sunlight through the beech leaves last weekend was just that - a glimpse. What a month it has been - rain, wind, cold. Heavy rain has brought the blossoms down in drifts, there was flooding on the seafront in Dublin this week, and a couple of weeks ago, this waterspout off Bray Head. (Here's a radar animation of the thunderstorm that generated it).

Rain brings down the blossom, wind the leaves

Here's hoping for a better May.

Fibonacci Schnauzer

20 April 2012


The weather continues to confound: unseasonable cold combined with (seasonably reasonable) showers, the whole meaning late sowing, slow growing. Thankfully, the glasshouse provides enough shelter for peas and beans to start off. Up at the allotment, the bare and ready soil reproaches me--I feel I should have planted lots by now. But garden writers do remind us that a week or two of delay due to cold weather now shouldn't make too much difference later in the season.

Last weekend, my wonderful gardening aunt gave me a tour of her garden, glasshouse and polytunnel. At 88 going on 89 she's still tending her garden (planning, digging, sowing, planting, keeping a weather eye out for frost), looking after her hens, cooking up a storm, and winning prizes in agricultural shows for her wonderful vegetables. She's an inspiration. We saw how her peas are doing (sown in half-pipes, ready to be slid into the prepared ground in her vegetable garden) and her potatoes: she has planted Sharpe's Express, as I have, but while mine are barely showing (and I have started to earth them up in anticipation of frost), hers are about 20cm high already, safe and warm in the tunnel. Shallots and onions, a grapevine and tomatoes are also on the go; not to mention rhubarb, apples, strawberries, raspberries, and soon barley for her hens and for its straw. Not bad... (Thanks for the tour and inspiration, CM). 

As well as an encouraging visit to my aunt's garden, we spent time with my cousin in Athlone: a warm welcome, a lovely dinner, good chat, and a walk by the Shannon, which took in the Big Meadow, south of Athlone, part of the protected Shannon callows. We didn't see any bird life--wrong time--but the cheerful Marsh Marigold was blooming in the grasses. Thanks for a lovely day, KM.

Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris
Away from the Big Meadow, back in my Small Garden, this week saw the exquisite dead nettle, Lamium orvala, come into its own. I got this last year from Mount Venus, couldn't resist it really, and it's more than earning its keep now. Like many plants in my garden--and I'm not sure why this is--it's quite subtle and requires a little bit of effort (like getting up close and personal) to truly appreciate it. It's a gorgeous thing though, and look how well those flowers do at being attractive to the ones that really matter, from the plant's point of view, the pollinators. What bee could resist the siren call of those wonderfully striped nectar guides, pointing the way to the treasures within. And on the way in and out, the bee's back will be nicely dusted with pollen which it will unwittingly carry to the next flower. 

Deadnettle, Lamium orvala
Nectar guides on a Lamium flower
I do occasionally leave subtlety behind though; witness the showier Bleeding Heart (also called Dutchman's Breeches) and the common, but nonetheless delightful, Forget-Me-Not which are are doing their thing too.

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis
Forget-Me-Not, Brunnera macrophylla
We hadn't been to the Dargle valley for a while so we headed back there last weekend for a walk, in the hope of finding Spring delights. We were a little early, although Izzy did point out that the ramsons, or wild garlic, were worth a second look.

Schnauzer gets to grips with Ramsons, wild garlic, Allium ursinum
In spite of the cold weather, which will continue next week apparently, we had sunshine too. On an evening walk with Iz in the local park, the setting sun spotlit the Scots Pines and other conifers, reminding us that this is April, after all. And to make up for such a melancholy blackbird poem from Mr Kavanagh recently, here's something else: it's an anonymous 9th Century Irish monastic poem, that's almost haiku-like in its simplicity; translated by Thomas Kinsella for the 1986 New Oxford Book of Irish Verse.

Evening sun spotlight
And finally for someone whose birthday falls in blossom time: have a good one LB, looking forward to celebrating it with you. 
Happy Birthday LB

13 April 2012


Happiness is... a pair of good boots. And warm woollen socks to go in them. (Who needs a tall ship and a star to steer her by?) Bogs and streams and lakesides can do their best, but good boots mean happy walking feet.

It was back to Donegal this weekend. The wintry chill stayed with us, but in the early mornings Iz and I ventured up the hill at the back of the house following the sheep tracks once we got onto the bog, pausing to admire the view (me) and taste unspeakable items (Iz) as we went along. Some of the mornings were very early starts and the hazel scrub was thrumming with birdsong, the distant roar of waves providing a constant bass note on one side of the hill, the gentle whump-whump of windmills providing a contrapuntal rhythm on the other.
To get mildly philosophical for a moment - walking the hills or the shore provides some space to think about things; some solace too. The death of loved ones throws into sharp relief one's own life. Middle age changes the focus anyway, but the death of those we love is a fairly merciless macro lens... Tramping on 600-million-year-old rocks is a salutary reminder of how short our own span of 55 or even 85 years is. Come to think of it, even our genus' span of about 2.5 million years or so seems unfeasibly short in a planetary history of about 4.5 billion years. Still though, we humans think in shorter timeframes and those whom we love are missed once their lives are lived. The hills and the bogs, the west coast, the Atlantic's roar, the constantly changing light, the tiny heath milkwort in the bog, the primroses in the ditches, the improbable azure of bluebells: all of these I've grown to love for their own sake but also because of who they remind me of: those who can't see them now, those who are remembered every day.
(Heath MilkwortPolygala serpyllifolia)
(Primrose, Primula vulgaris)
But Spring works its magic. Various belief systems put their own veneer onto a time of change and hope and we get passovers and resurrections and rituals of remembrance and celebration. But for me there's miracle enough in the emergence of new life, beauty enough in the form it takes, promise enough in its redemptive quality. And I'm lucky to have family and friends to celebrate it with. Thanks to all of you (you know who you are) for a lovely weekend. 

(Apple, Malus domestica, courtesy of SOT)
(Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus)
Back home midweek and things seemed mundane after the delights of hills and shore, but the local park provided subtle recompense in the form of small bunches of cowslips, taking over from the squills under the trees. An evening walk up to the allotment reassured us that the broad beans have survived our current wintry weather, the red onions are pushing up small spears, and I detected one or two tiny sprouts of the early potatoes. In the more clement clime of a bedroom windowsill, the corn has sprung up enthusiastically and the dahlia seedlings are coming along. I've transplanted the chilli seedlings and they'll have to fend for themselves now in pots in the glasshouse. Lovely busyness.

(Primula veris, Cowslip)

05 April 2012


Dark clouds - ragged ends snagged by the hilltops; rain and hail in the garden; S dashing up to the allotment with fleece for the broad beans...

Winter returned with a vengeance this week.

Living in a country where it's not that unusual to see weather from all four seasons in the one day, especially in March and April (the 'shoulder' months) is it any wonder that many of us are preoccupied with the weather? Add to that inbuilt interest a love of gardening and the interest can turn into some sort of obsession. So I find myself checking the Met √Čireann rainfall radar on the phone, hanging a max/min thermometer in the glasshouse and a Dutch barometer in the porch, and generally peering at the sky meaningfully probably more often than I need to. Of course the same goes for those who love photography, hill walking, kayaking, cycling...
Nearly Mooi!
This need to know the forecast reminds me of pre-smart-phone days when "hush! it's the weather forecast" would silence us all at the dinner table as Da--who had grown up on a farm, worked in agriculture all his life and remained a keen gardener and golfer into his late seventies--would strain to hear what the Met guys on the radio were going to say. (And does anyone else remember Michael Dillon and his reports from the marts? When did those disappear?).

Anyway, as predicted correctly by the Met √Čireann folk, winter returned this week and temperatures of -3C, hail, cold rain, sleet and keen winds reminded us all that we can't take the weather for granted. On Wednesday morning, many of the lovely lime-green chestnut leaves lay in sodden tatters on the ground in our park. To anthropomorphise for a moment, there was a distinct air of schadenfreude amongst the nearby ash trees, buds still tightly buttoned up.

The only solace for a frustrated gardener was to head into the glasshouse and sow some peas, runner beans, dahlias, alpine strawberries and corn. Well, I have all that room on the allotment and wouldn't it be lovely to have some fresh corn? It won't be a patch on the Taber corn that we used to buy in sunny Alberta--which was so sweet you could eat it raw off the cob--but it'll be a bit of craic to try it out. Now they just have to germinate: hopefully a warm windowsill at the front of the house will do the trick. Meanwhile, the tomato seedlings have settled into their temporary homes:
Chutney ahead
Winter weather or not though, the inexorable pull of the lengthening days gently tugs the plants along:

False Spikenard, 26 March
False Spikenard, 05 April

Phyllitis, Hart's Tongue (and Schnauzer's Paw)
Let's end this week on a contemplative note. A very short poem from someone who knew a thing or two about weather and melancholy; he'll return again in May, I hope, in better form. I'm certain the birds he's referring to there are blackbirds, whose song I can hear now as I type this in the April dusk. You might like to listen to that blackbird on wiki as you gaze into the pool:
Pool on a still evening (barometer almost at Mooi)
This week's entry is a little early as we'll be away for the weekend. Hope you all have a lovely Easter/Pesach/whatever you're having yerself.

01 April 2012


Thinking about this blog this week and musing on a few other things too, I thought about wonder. While the blog reflects some of what's going on weekly in my garden and in what I can see of the world around and about, what I also want it to do from time to time (well alright, more frequently than that if possible) is remind myself and you, dear reader, about wonder; not the wonder that comes from travelling to new places or hearing a moving piece of music or reading a beautifully wrought poem (all of which I love of course), or marvelling at Hockney in the Royal Academy (glad you enjoyed it, DM) or Soutine in the Orangerie (do you remember CM?), but specifically the wonder that's there for all of us, even--or perhaps especially--on a day-to-day basis. Even in, yes, the small suburban garden that I mention in the profile.

And so... a cold night, a sunlit morning, dew in the garden, a waiting grass (Molinia). And there it is, a jewel suspended, sunlight gleaming, its own world inverted inside.

Wonder dew
(For those of you looking at this on a laptop or PC, it may be worth double-clicking to see the image better).

Of course it helps me to get it here for you that I can turn to my resident photographer and ask him to capture it - thanks for the lovely image BvG.

The lengthening days, the warmth, the move into April mean that each day brings changes, too many to record here; so different from the dark winter months when there's a search for light and delight. Now the gardens, parks, trees, the sky, the light each carry their own sense of wonder.

You'll know from last week that top of any wonder list at this time of the year is blossom. As some trees start to take a step back, others are waiting in the wings. The Malus (crab apple) trees on our road are now in full blossomy flight:

Malus blossoms, some pale, some blushing
In the park and field nearby, the oaks and birches are now joining the horse chestnut and are stretching out shining and new. 

Birch catkins start to emerge

Is there anything fresher than new spring growth?

More oak
Back at home the Japanese maples are stealing the show. In my small back garden I have three... probably too many, but one is very small, another was a gift (thanks J and A), and the other was simply too beautiful not to have in my garden, gracing it, really. 

Acer  palmatum dissectum

Acer palmatum atropurpureum

Acer palmatum chinostachys
If you had to pick just one maple, Acer palmatum chinostachys would be the one I'd recommend: through all the seasons it's a joy, from the exquisite new growth now, which is an indescribable colour (if you can describe it, add a comment at the end!), through the most beautiful deep red flowers and seeds, all the way to a glowing autumn scarlet. In case I haven't convinced you, I again commissioned B to give me a hand:

New growth on Acer palmatum chinostachys, thanks for the photo B

And lest this whole wonderwall has been too much for you, let's end on a slightly different note: the results of all that froggy fornication a few weeks back. Here's a really short video--32sec--taken (very shakily) on the phone one evening this week; only bother with headphones if you want the sounds of suburban living and a lapping schnauzer (she had to show up somewhere...). 

Tadpoles from Erica cinerea on Vimeo.

And finally, happy happy 20th DM.