A Very Short Day

To mark this short day I found a lovely, if somewhat sober sonnet by Edmond Holmes, from ‘The Triumph of Love’ collection, which I would like to share with you.

Like as the thrush in winter, when the skies
Are drear and dark, and all the woods are bare,
Sings undismayed, till from his melodies
Odours of Spring float the frozen air, –
So in my heart when sorrow’s icy breath
Is bleak and bitter and its frost is strong,
Leaps up, defiant of despair and death,
A sunlit fountain of triumphant song.
Sing on, sweet singer, till the violets come
And south winds blow; sing on, prophetic bird!
Oh if my lips, which are for ever dumb,
Could sing to men what my sad heart has heard,
Life’s darkest hour with songs of joy would ring;
Life’s blackest frost would blossom into Spring.


The winter solstice occurred here in Germany at 5.48am this morning. I was not up to experience the moment, although I doubt very much if anything would have marked the moment anyway. Since it is, quite simply, just a moment – albeit a moment many of us have been waiting for – and it is over in a tick and leaves that little itch of a thought behind… Yes, the days will not become noticeably longer for a couple of weeks yet, but they ARE getting longer. And do you sense that tinge of excitement at the thought of snowdrops, daffodils and tulips popping up in the garden to greet the spring?

We haven’t had winter yet though, so I mustn’t count my chickens…

I had in fact been looking forward to a snowy winter, but now I think I may be happier to forego snow and ice and skip straight ahead to the March winds and April showers! I have been reading how the winter appears to be just as mild in most of the US and UK too. And John at A Walk in the Garden in North Carolina has already spotted some daffodils in flower! Have you seen any daffodils yet?


Whatever the weather, I wish you all a very happy and harmonious Christmas, full of all the things you wished for. And I look forward to seeing you in the New Year to share another year of my garden and kitchen with you and to be delighted by all your wonderful posts too.

Merry Christmas!





In a Vase on Monday: The Past, the Present and the Future

‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!’

This was what Scrooge said, after the three spirits had visited him in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.


These three Hellebores (Christrose in German) demonstrate the three stages of life that the spirits made Scrooge visit on his eventful Christmas Eve… the Past, the Present and the Future.

Thanks go to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden once again for the opportunity to show some materials from my garden in a vase on Monday. And this week I have a new “vase” too!


I found these three glass tubes mounted in a wooden block while hunting for Christmas gifts last week; exactly what I had been looking for, and so reasonably priced I decided to treat myself. 😀

The ivy and silver fir around the base are added for the seasonal touch.


I like to look at some Dickens every Christmas. It became a habit while I was still teaching, since a production  of “A Christmas Carol” is shown  in English in our town theatre every year and I have often been with students. My own English teacher at school also managed to convince me of the positive side of Dickens, and I admire his ability to entertain with words/wordiness and social comment.

Another couple of Dickens quotes, appropriate for the season:

‘There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’


‘Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days’.


… and finally
‘Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.’

Have a wonderful week, stress-free with time for some fireside or candleside relaxation and contemplation!


Wild Flower of the Year 2016 (Germany)


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.


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.


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…


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)


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?

In a Vase on Monday: Peace

I read last night that today is the UN International Day of Peace. What good such a day can do, I cannot imagine. I am sure we are all very much aware of the troubles all over the world right now, especially in the Middle East – up to ten thousand refugees (mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are entering Germany daily at the moment – but a day designated for thinking about the desperate need for more peace around the globe can certainly do no harm.

I therefore decided to take the theme of peace into my Monday vase this week – joining Cathy at Rambling in the Garden with her weekly meme. Why not pop over and visit her and see Cathy’s creation and all the other vases linking in from around the world. Or join in and make your own contribution using materials from your garden!


Cosmos “Purity” is the star of this vase – one of the cosmos that flowered well, albeit somewhat late this summer. It looks gorgeous against our clear blue sky this morning!


I associate the colour white with peace, and another white flower I grew from seed is the Cleome. Unfortunately the flowers are now looking a bit tatty and the leaves have been almost completely devoured by caterpillars. The seeds are ripening and I shall scatter a few and save the rest for sowing next year.


I have identified the custard yellow Echinacea above as “Aloha”, and decided to use it to contrast with the yellow centres of the Cosmos flowers.

Other flowers included are the white Achillea millefolium, which I planted last autumn and which has now got established despite the drought. Tough little plants!


And the creamy Scabiosa ochroleuca – this sort spreads like mad in my well-drained soil and can get quite a handful, but is easy to pull out in spring.


Various grasses fill out the vase with silvery and golden hues.


To finish off on a serious note, a quote for today…

“I call on all warring parties to lay down their weapons and observe a global ceasefire. To them I say: stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Have a good week, and thanks for stopping by!


Tree Following: April 2015

This year I am joining Lucy at Loose and Leafy in following a tree, and I am posting monthly about my Field Maple (Acer campestre) which stands at the bottom of our garden.



Look up, look up, at any tree!

There is so much for eyes to see:

Twigs, catkins, blossoms; and the blue

Of sky, most lovely, peeping through…

(from “Look Up!” by Cicely Mary Barker)


Despite some really warm days the leaf buds are only just showing signs of development. I can’t wait to see the leaves unfurl.


The other members of the Acer family in my garden are just as far on or even a little further ahead; the Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore)…


the Acer tataricum (Amur Maple)…


and the Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple)…


 Between the 7th and 14th of each month you can link in with your tree at Loose and Leafy. Dozens of people from all over are taking part, so why not join in!

Are you seeing any leaf growth yet?

The International Year of Soils

Did you know that 2015 has been designated International Year of Soils by the United Nations?

Logo of International Year of Soils 2015

I was a bit slow reacting to this, but then I finally got round to reading a few articles about it. And they got me thinking…


“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt





It is under our feet, maybe covered with concrete, gravel or tarmac, but it is everywhere and we rarely give it a thought. Okay, if you’re a gardener then you probably do think about it. You think about it being acid or alkaline, sandy or clay, stony, rich, poor, fertile, compact, organic and maybe a few more adjectives spring to mind. But on a grander scale what about soil erosion or desertification, contamination and pollution, soil degradation, increased salinity, soil management in developing countries…?

The aim of the IYS is to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions

Raising awareness is only the first step. After all, we are all very aware of global climate change and yet our governments still refuse to sign this or that agreement, to invest more in renewable energy, or to reduce subsidies for blatantly environmentally-damaging products and processes. But it is an important step as, at the end of the day, it is down to individuals to bring about change.


“The fate of the soil system depends on society’s willingness to intervene in the market place, and to forego some of the short-term benefits that accrue from ‘mining’ the soil so that soil quality and fertility can be maintained over the longer term.”

Eugene Odum (US biologist known for his pioneering work on ecosystem ecology)


The next stage promoted by this awareness campaign is to educate people about how important soil is for our ecosystems as a whole and how it affects not only our health, but also our economic welfare; sustainable soil management is the practical form of this educational process and must be invested in – worldwide – with the support of government policies and protective legislation.

The EU – after many years of deliberation – still does not have a cohesive soil governance policy, relying only on environmental policies and legislation of member states. Do we need a single policy? Or should soil governance be a regional issue? After all, the effects of poor soil management can have global repercussions…



One square metre of rich soil can harbour as many as 1,000,000,000 organisms, including nematodes, bacteria, slugs, insects etc


I Heart Soil English Image - Small

In Germany I have only been able to find a few events taking place to celebrate the Year of Soils – mostly rather dry-sounding lectures in distant cities.  But I have found a few links to interesting sites. In particular this one: http://saveoursoils.com/en

Please take a look at it. There is a wealth of information here, with some great short videos and a list of things you can do to help;

Buy organic

Garden organically

Eat less meat


Look out for more information and pass it on!

(e.g. Write a blog post about it, however long or short, or simply add a couple of links to interesting articles or videos)


Did you know that earthworms can deposit up to 10 kilos per square metre per year of valuable worm droppings in the soil?

(Neither did I! 😉 )


“We are able to breathe, drink, and eat in comfort because millions of organisms and hundreds of processes are operating to maintain a liveable environment, but we tend to take nature’s services for granted because we don’t pay money for most of them.”

Eugene Odum

Here are some other links. There really is so much information online, so this is just a selection of what I found recently:

Earthworm Society of Britain

Global Soil Week

Video “Support World Soil Day”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

The International Union of Soil Sciences


 So, have I got YOU thinking too now? I do hope so!

Book Review: Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Selected, Edited and with an Introduction by Sarah Maguire


Recently this book featured as a prop in my “In a Vase on Monday” post, and I realized I had not reviewed it although I have had it for several years now.


This collection of poetry is the second favourite in my book shelf (my first favourite is the New Dragon Book of Verse which I learned to love in my school days!), and it often gets an airing, not just in winter.

The poems are all about plants, and they are (in my opinion!) all wonderful… in very different ways. Perhaps I haven’t read every single one, but there are many I have read over and over again. One seasonal example is Louise Glück’s “Snowdrops”, which I find very moving. Here’s an excerpt…

… I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

Snowdrops February 2014

Snowdrops last spring

The book is divided rather unusually into botanical families, which means that I have learnt a few things while thumbing through it. Did you know, for example, that forget-me-nots are in the same family as borage? I suppose some of you did, as you are all so knowledgeable, but I had never given it much thought! We are taken through over 50 different botanical families such as the  Maple and the Beech, the Onion, Arum, Lily, Beech, Spurge and Olive, and many of the poems have a note on the botanical name of the plant, tree or flower that is the subject. The sections vary in length; families like the Vine have only one, while the Rose section has over 40. One of my favourites in the Rose section is Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose”, and here are the first and last verses

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose….

… Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.


 Another surprising element of this anthology is to read one poem from, say, the 17th century and then the next one is from the 20th century. For example, Robert Herrick’s poem “To Daffadills”  is followed by Sylvia Plath’s “Among the Narcissi”. Then the first line of the 1998 James Reiss poem “Lily” reads “Went out & scissored a lily…” and on the opposite page we read “White though ye be; yet, Lillies, know…” in Robert Herrick’s “How Lillies Came White” from 1648. These juxtapositions are fascinating, unexpected and work very well.


It is also fascinating to see the way certain plants, such as the rose, have captured the romantic imagination over centuries. Symbols and human desires have changed very little over time, even though the countryside in which they grow has altered dramatically. John Clares idyllic images of rural England in the early 19th century demonstrate this time and again with his references to meadows, wheatfields and cattle grazing. There are quite a few of his poems here; with his eye for detail and his passion for the countryside he tended to focus frequently on individual plants.

And then having Sylvia Plath next to Ted Hughes, or John Clare (“The Wheat Ripening”) next to Vikram Seth (“Evening Wheat”) is, quite simply, very enjoyable reading.


There are many writers in here I did not know before, from all over the globe, and I have been encouraged to look for more of their work. But then there are also the lovely old English familiars; Thomas Hardy, John Donne, W.B.Yeats, William Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, etc.

The book has an index of the poems under the botanical families, as well as an index of poets, one of titles AND one of first lines. There is also a nice introduction by Sarah Maguire, a poet herself, who composed this anthology. She describes how and why she gathered so many poems on flora and gives a few details of what she was unable to include, as well.

If you love plants, botany and poetry you will most definitely like this book!


Click on this picture for a link where you can buy Flora Poetica

A final note: the name “Chatto” in the title refers to the publishers Chatto and Windus, an imprint of Random House. I thought there must be a connection to Beth Chatto so looked this up and found out that the founder of this publishing house in 1873 was actually Beth Chatto’s father-in- law. Curiosity satisfied!