Freeze-Froze-Frozen

One of the major inland waterways for freight carried across Germany, the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, is currently closed to traffic…

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It has been below freezing point for several weeks now (apart from a couple of days around Christmas), at times reaching -17°C and frequently staying at around -9°C during the day. I have seen the canal freeze over once before, but it never freezes completely, being built into the bed of a slow-flowing river. Last Monday it was officially closed to traffic, as the locks froze up and no ice breakers could get through.

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The canal links up the North Sea (Rotterdam in the Netherlands) with the Black Sea, and millions of tonnes of heavy building materials, grain and coal are transported via this route on long deep barges each year. Passenger cruises also regularly use this route, the most popular trips being from Rotterdam or Nurenberg, down past us to the Danube, and then on to Vienna and even Budapest. This part of the canal near to us was the last section to be built, involving high costs to reduce the environmental impact and secure habitats for wildlife. The completed canal is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

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Today it is a balmy +1°C, with +3°C  forecast by the weekend. Still cold at night though, so it will take a while before we see boats coming this way again. In the meantime it is pleasantly quiet…

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Have you seen local waterways freeze this winter?

Stay safe and warm everyone!

A Very Happy Christmas!

The beautiful countryside around us has been shrouded in thick fog and covered in layer upon layer of frost for most of December. When I heard the lovely carol “In the bleak mid-winter” the other day I found it quite apt to describe our surroundings here – the earth is hard as iron (although it has thawed a little in places in the last 24 hours) and the water in the bird bath is hard as stone again. But no snow still. (Sigh)

So I’m afraid I cannot post any pretty photos of frost covered pine trees, glittering in the sun with a blue sky beyond…. but I can offer a glimpse of our black and white world instead.

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And I can wish you all a very Happy Christmas too!

I hope you have the opportunity to relax over the holidays, spend time with loved ones, read a good book or just chill out in front of a warm fireplace with a hot mug of tea…

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Many warm wishes to you all!

😀

 

Germany’s ‘Flower of the Year’ 2017: the Field Poppy

Each autumn the Loki Schmidt Foundation in Germany announces the flower they have chosen as ‘Flower of the Year’. I was pleased to hear that for 2017 it will be Papaver rhoeas, the Common Poppy, or Field Poppy as I know it.

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We are fortunate to see it growing wild in corn fields and around the edges of agricultural land near us. But in some regions it has all but died out. The intense use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, along with other modern technology in farming methods, mean the conditions no longer exist in which this wild flower can colour our fields and roadsides.

A couple of years ago this was the view just beyond our garden gate.

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Not just poppies, but sweet peas, chamomile and cornflowers were mixed in with the crop.

And this summer several farmers started sowing strips of wild flowers along the edges of their crop fields to encourage wild bees and other pollinators, insects and wildlife. This is subsidized by the EU – I only wish they would offer subsidies for NOT deep plowing, fertilising, and spraying chemicals or slurry on the land year in year out!

The idea of this Flower of the Year campaign, called ‘Blume des Jahres’ in German, is to draw attention to the plight of certain flowers which are slowly becoming endangered in our countryside. I hope it helps with awareness, as it would be tragic to lose more of our beautiful wild flowers.

Which wild flower would you miss most of all? The poppy perhaps?

In a Vase on Monday: Buttermilk

Cream, yellow and white seem to be predominant colours all around us now, with the hedgerows alive with St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Queen Ann’s Lace (Daucus carota), golden grasses and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), to name just a few.

I picked some wild flowers from the edges of a meadow that has not been cut at all this summer, and plonked them in a vase. But for Cathy’s meme I decided a ‘proper’ vase was needed and gathered more creams and whites and yellows for my milk jug. This was also inspired by the roadsides and hedges, and by the jug itself.

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The Leucanthemum daisies and yellow Achillea ‘Parker’ were the starting point. Then Alchemilla mollis and some yellow Fennel were added, along with some Feverfew, Clematis seed heads, a white Heuchera flower, wild Yarrow and some white airy wild flowers that look a bit like cow parsley, but I don’t know what they are…. Milk Parsley perhaps?

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I love the sunshine effect this vase created when I brought it inside. 😀

And here was the first vase from the meadow. I may not have identified everything correctly, as there were a few things I recognize but have never named…

There is a large stem of Artemisia in there too, as well as various clovers, some Agrimony and some wild Yarrow (Achillea).

Our host Cathy at Rambling in the Garden is having a party with Annabelle today, so do drop by for a share in the celebrations! 😉

Wild Flower of the Year 2016 (Germany)

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Every year the Loki Schmidt Foundation selects a wild flower to highlight as its “Wild Flower of the Year”. Loki Schmidt was a botanist and in her fortunate position as wife to one of our former Chancellors, Helmut Schmidt, (who sadly died just a few days ago) she was able to found this Hamburg-based charity. The Foundation promotes the maintaining of habitats for wildlife and works to protect endangered species through education. Amongst other projects, they have bought up small areas of land in the north of Germany where certain plants or animals are threatened.

For 2016 one of my favourite wild flowers (I do have many favourites!) has been chosen: the Cowslip, or Primula veris.

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In much of Germany this little flower is on the red list, as its preferred habitat – dry meadows on alkaline soil – is dwindling due to land development, agricultural use or the intensive use of fertilizers. In choosing this flower the Foundation also hopes to bring attention to the loss of such meadows and similar habitats. In the south of Germany we are more fortunate, and cowslips are still found in the wild fairly often, although not as frequently as I would like; coming across them down near our canal is like finding hidden treasure.

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Many years ago I remember being taken out by my mentor on a car ride in the south of Germany. I had no idea what the purpose of the trip was until we arrived and there they were – millions of cowslips filling a large meadow on a dry stony hillside. What a wonderful sight, and one I will possibly never see again.

Now I am cultivating a small area of our lawn where they have self-seeded…

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Each spring I wait eagerly to see them appear, and this area is not to be mown until they have safely spread their seeds again. This is where the strict farming regulations and nature reserve rules in our area assist in preserving wild flowers too – certain meadows should not be mown until June in order to ensure that some species recur naturally. I don’t think this is actually an enforcable law, as I do see farmers mowing too early sometimes, but I think subsidies must be an incentive for most to stick to the rules.

A Meadow in May

A Meadow in May

Primula veris is a sun-loving plant and in our climate usually flowers in April and May. It is a protected species, and may not be picked or dug up from the wild. However, a single plant can spread quickly into a bigger clump, seeding itself around profusely.

“Beneath the sun I dance and play

In April and in merry May”

(Cicely Mary Barker)

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The botanical name Primula means first and veris means spring. One of the common names in the German language is Himmelsschlüssel – meaning “heaven’s keys”; the legend goes that St Peter dropped his keys to the gates of heaven and the first cowslips grew up where the keys landed! I then looked up the English common names in Wikipedia –  a long list of them that I have never heard before, including herb peter, key flower, key of heaven, fairy cups, buckles, palsywort, plumrocks, and tittypines! Wikipedia claims that “In the Middle-Ages it was also known as St. Peter’s herb or Petrella and was very sought after by Florentine apothecaries.” In herbal medicine the extract of Primula veris is used in cold remedies to relieve coughs and bronchial symptoms.

Although it will be some time before we see the Cowslip flowering again here, a close relative has decided to flower for me in November…

Primula x pruhoniciana "Schneewittchen"

Primula x pruhoniciana “Schneewittchen”

Are you also having such a mild autumn?

What are “Stinzenpflanzen”?

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Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

Stinzenpflanzen one of those nice long German words – is a new word for me. I came across it in my gardening magazine this month and thought it worthy of a mention here. I have been unable to translate it, as it seems to be a local term only, but I’ll do my best to explain…

“Pflanzen” is German for plants. And in northern Germany and the Netherlands “Stinzen” is an old Frisian word for houses made of stone… from the 16th century on this meant grand houses, for the wealthy only – manors and castles, houses on large estates, monasteries or vicarages, etc. These houses frequently had gardens and parkland attached, and as a sign of wealth and standing the grounds were planted extravagantly with bulbs, tubers and plants grown from rhizomes which had been introduced from other more exotic parts of the world by the plant hunters of the age, or simply from different regions of Europe.

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Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

Typical for this particular style of planting was spring flowering plants that naturalize, so in some areas of northern Germany the stone houses – “Stinzen” – have long gone, but areas of “Stinzenpflanzen” remain to remind us of the past.

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Corydalis cava

The term Stinzenpflanzen includes flowers such as:

Snowdrops, Winter Aconites, Glory of the Snow…

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Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa)

… Spring and Summer Snowflakes, Scillas, Crocuses …

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Crocus tommasinianus

… Corydalis, Bluebells, Narcissi, the Snake’s Head Fritillary, Star-of-Bethlehem…

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Star of Bethlehem (Gagea lutea)

… Lily of the Valley, Arum Lilies and Wood Anemones…

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Yellow Wood Anemone (Anemone ranunculoides)

Do you grow any Stinzenpflanzen?

😉