Thursday, 19 October 2017




 The Applewood Permaculture Centre is nestled in the hills of Herefordshire. I went there for a short course last week: "Learning the language of systems and patterns". Applewood is aptly named because there is indeed a large orchard (where I camped) with various local varieties. Some delicious apples and apple juice were a welcome bonus to doing the course.
 One of the tutors Looby runs the centre with her partner Chris (it's also their home). The other tutor was Aranya; I did my PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) with Aranya back in 2015 and a couple of other short courses since then.
 I will have to write a longer entry on permaculture because some very interesting ideas and practices have developed out of it from the 70s onward. Suffice to say Aranya is a brilliant communicator of some weighty concepts which sound like (and in fact are) common sense when he describes them so clearly. He is a masterful exponent of the whiteboard which he wipes down afterwards with an old sock!
 His book "Permaculture Design" is a great source book for permaculture in general and the design process in particular. He will be publishing his second book next year and it will be about systems and patterns.   

Wednesday, 18 October 2017




 Some plants just look plain weird. I gave my talk at the South London Botanical Institute last night about hiking in California and Oregon (the talk went well I'm relieved to say). I included a few photos of strange looking plants that haven't appeared on the blog as yet so here they are.
 At the top is Bear Grass (Xerophyllum tenax) which I have read is still used by Native Americans for basket making.
 The next may be of the Castilleja genus which is known for the very colourful "Paintbrush" species but there seem to be some where the bulbous heads don't open. Actually I'm guessing here, more research needed.
Finally a Coralroot- Corallorrihiza maculata or mertensiana perhaps? These are of the orchid family and do not photosynthesize or produce chlorophyll relying instead on a symbiotic relationship with mychorrhizal funghi for nutrition.
 In the background is Wizard Island on Crater Lake. It seems more than a few months ago that I stopped to take this photo as I hiked around the rim of the caldera. It was nice to do the talk yesterday and encapsulate some of the memories and feelings about that trip.      

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


 The South London Botanical Institute is in Tulse Hill, a slightly unexpected part of town to find a botanic garden.
 I'm giving a talk there next Tuesday 17th. October at 7pm about my hiking trips to Crater Lake in Oregon and Mount Shasta in California. All welcome.
 The SLBI is something of a gem, run by a dedicated bunch of people who do it because it matters. Every now and then I lend a hand in the garden, for example putting up the wigwam in the photo! When I first came across this place it gave me hope that my own interests in "wild gardening" weren't entirely an act of folly.
 The Institute was founded by Allan Octavian Hume in 1910. He was one of those Victorians whose life reads like a character from a novel.
 He was an ornithologist and botanist who amassed huge collections. He was a member of the Imperial Civil Service in India at the time of the Raj yet went on to be one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, precursor of the independence movement. Among other things he oversaw the development of the Great Hedge of India, an impenetrable thorny barrier over a thousand kilometres long.
 Along with his social concerns he was for a time associated with Theosophy. He created the South London Botanical Institute towards the end of his life and took a particular interest in wild plants and invasive species. The author of an article of the period referred to it (disparagingly?) as "a garden full of weeds".
 The SLBI's current president is Roy Vickery (see also my entry on May 15th). He once mentioned to me that he was disappointed the local newspaper had described the Institute as being "slightly eccentric" because he considered it to be very eccentric. He's probably right.

 The South London Botanical Institute is located at 323 Norwood Road, London SE24 9AQ. www.slbi.org.uk  The talk is £3, free for members.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017




 The shingle of the Chesil Beach is home to some tenacious wild plants which can cope with the harsh conditions. I took a walk along a stretch of it a couple of weeks ago when I made a flying visit to Dorset for an overnight stay.
 The top photo shows clumps of Sea Kale (Crambe maritima); the white flowers have faded to brown stalks.
 In the middle is Sea Mayweed (Matricaria maritime) which is rather reminiscent of chamomile and flowers prolifically even in late September.
 The last plant -also past flowering- looks like it might be Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum).  NB a different plant to Marsh Samphire (Salicornia europaca) which is much liked by wild foodies, though if it is Rock Samphire that too has a history as an edible.

Sunday, 1 October 2017



 The late flowering Agastache Blackadder is popular with bumblebees searching for food as autumn closes in.
 On the whole I prefer the original species of plants rather than cultivars derived from them but there are several very attractive Agastache hybrids
 Blackadder is a cross between the North American A. foeniculum and A. rugosa which hails from Korea and Japan. Their respective common names Anise Hyssop and Korean Mint indicate the plant's aromatic qualities.
    

Tuesday, 26 September 2017





 Ivy is not generally thought of as a flower but it is a flowering plant and just about the last one of the season that provides a plentiful source of food for pollinators.
 I remember walking down a country lane that was dense with ivy and at first I thought someone must have been using a generator or some piece of machinery nearby that was giving off a very audible hum. Then I realised it was the sound of thousands upon thousands of bees all over the ivy.
 In Dorset at this time of year I have noticed more than once that it attracts a good many Red Admiral butterflies as well.
 The ivy in the photos above is at the back of a pub garden in that county. I have also noticed there is a definite synchronicity between seeking out wildflowers and finding country pubs.   

Monday, 25 September 2017



 Iris foetidissima is a tough as old boots kind of plant. Seen here I came across it growing in a fairly open marshy spot only a few hundreds yards from Chesil Beach in Dorset. Equally it grows in the driest shadiest spots which is where I planted it in the garden some years ago.
  In the middle of the summer months it has intricate veined flowers. They are not very conspicuous but beautiful none the less when looked at closely (see my entry on 8th. June). It has a second season of interest in the autumn when it produces vivid orange berries that hang in clusters- they are more showy than the flowers in fact.