Monday, 2 July 2018



 Dear reader, I'm packing the diary in my rucksack while I hit the trail so there will be no entries for several weeks. Today I fly to San Fransisco to catch up with some good people in the Bay Area then I'll continue my explorations of the Pacific North-West.
 In 2016 I headed for Mount Shasta in northern California (top photo) for some hiking and camping where the tree line meets the snowline. I wasn't keeping this diary then but there is an entry 21st. June last year concerning the extraordinary Panther Meadows, an alpine flower meadow on the slopes of Shasta.
 In 2017 I pitched my tent near Crater Lake (second photo) in southern Oregon- there are numerous entries last August about this trip.
 This year I'm heading to NorCal again but south of Shasta, to Castle Crags. I'll be back later in the month with some tales from the trails...    

Sunday, 1 July 2018


 I'm parched. I don't mean I need a beer. Actually I do need a beer but that's not what I mean. We're in a drought. I haven't seen any official figures but this is the driest I've known the garden in the eight years I've been living here. I'm thinking this must be the longest, hottest spell we've had for decades?
 Beyond going round with a watering can (pots mainly) the garden is left to its own devices, so it's looking decidedly scrubby, scrappy and mottled. All the plants should tough it out though and recover in the year ahead. These species exist in the wild and see all kinds of weather be it drought, downpour, sub-zero or blazing hot. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018



 A good harvest on the allotment: of Comfrey. I mentioned in a previous entry (27th. May) that there are big clumps of it on the allotment. It flowers heavily in late spring/early summer (mobbed by bees). Now the flowers have faded the foliage can be put to good use to fertilise the soil.
 Comfrey is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Some gardeners steep the leaves in water to make Comfrey tea. Others chop and drop i.e. spread it around as a mulch. I was intending to do the latter but since we are experiencing a drought I think it would just dry out and shrivel up. So I mixed the cuttings with some well rotted horse manure and I will use this as a composted mulch later in the season.
 And speaking of harvests I plucked some raspberries, redcurrants and gooseberries; also a few radishes, onions and shallots.

Friday, 29 June 2018


 Both the beneficial and dangerous properties of plants are apparent in this grouping in the garden (though that wasn't my intention when I planted them). In the foreground of the photograph above are the cheery yellow and white Daisy-like flowers of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and it is indeed of the Asteraceae i.e. Daisy family.
 Beyond basic botany I don't really address herbalism or modern medicine in this blog because I am not versed in either subject. Feverfew is interesting in this respect because traditionally it was regarded as a medicinal herb for headaches, colds, rheumatism, fevers and such; hence the name. It has also been the subject of a number of modern studies which agree that it can have a beneficial effect on conditions such as migraines albeit with the proviso of possible side effects in some cases e.g. if consumed by pregnant women.
 Continuing with this theme in the middle ground of the photo we see the lilac flowers of Goat's-rue (Galega officinalis):


 In folk medicine Goat's-rue was advocated for symptoms which we now associate with conditions like diabetes (and also to increase the yields of milk). Observation and study led to the conclusion that G. officinalis has adverse and somewhat toxic effects on humans but research continued into the compounds of the plant and derivatives from these became the basis of several modern drugs developed to tackle diabetes.
 As I understand it numerous modern medicines are synthesized from plant compounds yet there is a schism between advocates of "herbal" and "scientific" medicine. I can't help wondering if there couldn't be some common ground on both sides of the argument?
 On a cautionary note however in the background of the first photo we see the blue-indigo flowers of Monk's-hood (Aconitum napellus), a beautiful plant but poisonous:


 There are a good many plants popular in gardens and growing wild that have toxic properties- Foxgloves, Lily of the Valley and Delphiniums for example. Monkshood must be one of the most toxic. Eating any part of the plant would induce severe sickness and possibly be fatal. Apparently it tastes very unpalatable which is a warning of sorts though there have been rare incidents where it has been consumed with dire consequences.
 There was a tragic case widely reported a few years ago where a young man working as a gardener died from organ failure, and this was said to be a consequence of brushing against Monk's-hood.
 It was not widely reported that an open verdict was recorded at the subsequent inquest into the death of this unfortunate person and in fact the cause could not be determined. Various experts have expressed the view that Monk's-hood poisoning was not a viable explanation for what happened.
 There are accounts of incidents where florists have experienced nausea and other symptoms from skin contact when handling it but as far as I'm aware there is no plant so toxic that merely touching it will prove lethal.
 None the less Aconitum napellus is a reminder that plants have a very diverse chemistry. Some are nutritious, some can be medicinal but some have the potential to be harmful. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018



 I paid a visit to Glengall Wharf Gardens this afternoon, a stone's throw from the Old Kent Road. It was indeed a wharf -when a spur of the Grand Surrey Canal ran through Peckham to the Camberwell Basin. Some years ago (decades after the canal was abandoned and drained) it was developed as a community garden.
 I went there to contribute to a workshop/discussion about the principles of Permaculture which are an important aspect of the ethos of the garden; an enjoyable afternoon with an interesting group of people.
 I took the opportunity to wander round and take a few photos. They have beehives there and I was particularly struck by something I saw. Several small ponds have been created and these were teeming with honey bees going back and forth sipping the water. Even bees need to drink!


  

Monday, 25 June 2018


 Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) growing among rocks at the seaside. 

Thursday, 21 June 2018



 Today is the Longest Day, the Summer Solstice. I'm with the Druids on this one, I can see why our ancient ancestors worshiped the sun and the moon.
 From the botanical point of view the Winter and Summer Solstice are the most significant dates on the calendar: the amount of daylight steadily increasing then steadily decreasing at these points affects and catalyses all aspects of a plant's existence. Yes, it makes a difference if for example we have a wet or dry year but above all else it's the sun, or perhaps I should say it's the sun in conjunction with everything else. I suspect all calendars began with this fundamental duality as our ancestors sought to understand our place in the cosmos.
 It's not quite Stonehenge but I walked up to Telegraph Hill at the top of my road, one of the highest points in South London with sweeping views of the city. I rarely include photographs of people or buildings in this diary but I will make an exception in this case. Dozens had gathered on the hill to see the sunset over the skyline. Clearly we still have a primitive urge to make for high ground and watch the Solstice sun go down beyond distant mountains...