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Flower Shows

22 May

There is a very large and glamorous flower show in full swing at the moment…

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but this year I think I prefer the one happening in the garden and on the streets.

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On to flower shows of a different but not unrelated kind. Do listen to Sir David Attenborough talking to James Naughtie on BBC Radio 4 this morning about the high number of declining plant and animal species in England outlined in the recently published State of Nature report.

‘It confirms your worst thoughts, really,’ Attenborough says.  ‘We’ve got this extraordinary expertise in destroying, poisoning and knocking down things.’

You’ll find the clip here.

Before that leaves you too depressed, have a look at the website of Plantlife, a charity dedicated to saving wild plants and their habitats, which I find consistently inspiring and motivating – two very good things. Plantlife, along with the RSPB and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, is one of the 25 wildlife charities that contributed to the report.

Springtime in Paris

29 Mar

Today, some snaps from a weekend in Paris, which I took a couple of weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to put up  – this long weekend is lovely but it has made this week rather busy. It was a Eurostar trip: we caught the train after work one Friday and were back in London by Sunday evening. I’ve called this post Springtime in Paris in an attempt at English irony: there was no spring. Well, not much anyway.

We’ve started thinking of these city breaks as inspiration trips. Expect this sounds rather pretentious but the rule is that there’s no pressure to see any of the sights: it is enough simply to hear a different tongue and wander by  (to say flaneur here really would make this seem pretentious). The change of scenery is enough.

Something from St Germain first. We stopped for a small market, those macaroons, handcream, which, I noticed yesterday, is also favoured by Jane Cumberbatch , plimsolls for the three days of summer we’ll have later in the year, and lots of window shopping and pressing of the nose against the glass of galleries and antiques dealerships.

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Then a bike ride along the Seine on one of Paris’ brilliant dual-carriageway cycle paths. I’m not a great cyclist and so was pleased to have got by with only one potential encounter with a Citroen. ‘You nearly went splat,’ my fella said. He can so alarmist. The car was miles away. Truly.

Along then, to the Promenade Plantee. New Yorkers may like to think they’re awfully smart on elevated parks and redundant railway lines with their Highline – I’ve blogged about it here in the past – but the Promenade Plantee pre-dates it by a long way, having been designed in the eighties and early nineties as part of a larger regeneration programme around the Bastille. The original railway line is reported to have operated between 1859 and 1969.

While the Highline is all soft, informal planting from Piet Oudolf, it stuck me that this was a very Parisian arrangement and also of its time: symmetrical and clipped with trained roses and reflective pools.

With this winter dragging on, the surrounding buildings were beautifully stark. We were the same height as the branches of the trees.

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I loved the facades of these buildings, which you just wouldn’t notice if you were on the ground 10 metres below or if the trees were in leaf.

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French shutters.

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And some of 80s architecture. I liked the contrast between the old buildings and these new blocks. It felt a little like London’s East End – isn’t there an elevated railway line around Bethnal Green which could benefit from a similar treatment?

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About the only sign of spring.

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A little Parisian insouciance.

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Guardian at the Pont du Caroussel on the river, near the Tuilleries.

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Final shot, near Gare du Nord and a nice, safe distance from the crowds heading up to the Sacre Coeur.

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Commuter Soundtrack

19 Mar

Thank God for longer, if not warmer, days at this time of year.  I was in danger of turning into a mole, with near redundant eyes, a heightened sense of smell – especially for sweet potato gratin – and a warm pelt removed only for sleeping and known as, for not awfully clever reasons really, the Bulawayo Celebration Shrug. These days, however, when it is time to go home in the late afternoon, it is pleasing to look outside and feel mild surprise upon seeing the remaining daylight.

The birds are getting busier, too. I know it is a matter of life and death for them but the chorus I woke to and then came home to yesterday was beautiful. I am not yet terribly good at identifying particular species (I’ll raise you a South African piet-my-vrou for every English tree-creeper) but I do know a blackbird when I hear  one. Especially when it sounds like this:

If you are interested in the subject, you might look at the RSPB online bird identifier, which helpfully has robin, black bird, feral pigeon and mallard as a starting point. Poor old feral pigeons. They have such a bad press.

Muddy Knees and Elbows

26 Feb

It’s difficult to think of spring with the wind howling down the hillsides and small, dry snowflakes falling from a sludgy sky most persisitently. Still, here and there, there are green shoots and heartening spots of colour. I’ve been walking past daffodils, snowdrops and crocuses for a week or two now and certain trees and shrubs have that tell-tale swelling at the end of their stems: inside them, wrapped up tightly, is a leaf or petal.

The presence of early spring bulbs brings to mind a former editor who insisted upon all her garden photographers coming back from shoots with muddy knees and elbows – she was quite allergic to receiving envelopes stuffed with trannies uniformly taken from chest height.  This presented challenges. I was learning at the time and eager to please, so I soon knew to wear longer length t-shirts with low-rise jeans if I was going to be out and about, particularly if the location was somewhere rather smart, as it often was.

Knees-and-elbows was a great lesson to learn, however, and I think it’s a lesson for life, too. Isn’t it amazing how different things seem, usually for the better, with a change of perspective.

Here, crocuses from Kew.

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