Green Cities: Life under the flight path to London Heathrow. People need green cities and wildlife too.

For all of my life and bringing up my children I have lived under the main HeathroSutton Park, West London, Green suasage shape from planes landing and on North side.w flight path as for all those who live in West London near the River Thames and the Great West Road. On my brief return to West London for the course at Kew Gardens I walked around many of the green spaces and streets I have known well. Spring was out with a blossoming vengeance. I took some photos on and early evening walk around Heston.

The first is from Sutton Park which can be seen as a green sausage from planes flying into Heathrow when quite low, only a few minutes to landing. Here this vast green is surrounded by houses and seems to be loved by the Heston Starling community. I saw quite a few in the trees and Starlings like grassy spaces but could adjust to city life if they scavenge more.

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The street trees were full of Cherry blossom and the particular street shown was where we first lived. One of the first notices to come through the door was a tree preservation order. visited a friend and cut a small twig to draw on my course! The magnolias were also out and though short lived there are still many in gardens. It made me think how beautiful Heston could be in the Spring but also how stunning it must have been when everyone cared for their gardens and there were no drives. Heston was developed from orchards in the 1920s into a  garden suburb for those who could afford to move out of the crowded terrace streets of inner London! Now every bit of open space is under pressure for new housing.

Two places and people close to my heart are of course my daughters and many memories of Barnes Common and walking through with my daughters and dogs. This is a borrowed one!Barnes Common is a historic green space kept as common land for all us commoners but now it is not sheep but dogs, people and varied wildlife that need this open space

 

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And the photo below is  the cherry tree in the Brentford and Isleworth Quaker Meeting House garden, a sacred space from the 1700s.  And my daughters under the tree on Mother’s day.  I am now back at Navasola in Spain and miss some aspects of my London life, but not work! ( Also not sure why I had to copy the images instead of adding them and photos not so sharp) And the last photo, now working again and not having to copy is of  a Seville roof garden, from the amazing wooden sculpture of Mushroom design above  the Plaza Encarnacion. A place for great views of Seville.

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Kew Gardens, Botany, Illustrations and a visit to the Herbarium

 

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The Tropical Palm House, Kew Gardens, March 2014
Willow sculptures at end of day, Mach 2014
Willow sculptures at end of day,Kew Gardens March 2014

It has been an intense two weeks at Kew on the botanical illustration course and although it was daunting to work along side trained artists there were also some beginners similar to myself. The aim was to learn some of the skills needed so that I can try and draw some of the wild flowers at Navasola ; to keep a record and to learn to identify plants more. My memories of Kew do go back a long way as we lived nearby and as a family would visit often when it was about a penny or an old threepenny coin? I also did a weekend job waitressing in the restaurant near the Temperate House and saved my pennies and tips for my trip to India! Its now quite expensive to visit Kew Gardens so it is worth being a member and the work that Kew does is so much more than just having a really amazing collection of plants and trees and the cost of just the upkeep of that. Conservation and saving endangered plants, horticulture, Plant studies, DNA, diseases and more….

A member of the Zamia family I had an attempt at drawing and a robin came and watched me with a critical eye!
A member of the Zamia family I had an attempt at drawing and a robin came and watched me with a critical eye!

Our teacher, Lucy Smith is a professional botanical illustrator and specialises in palms. I visited the palm house at lunch time as it was warm and a break was needed ! The  first photo of the Palm House and daffodils was taken at the end of a hardworking day drawing leaves in Museum No 1 near the famous Palm Glasshouse. The shapes of the palms looked grand and ghostly against the stormy evening sunset. I also found a lot of information about Paeonies in the horticulture gardens and a lot of examples of plants we find in Southern Spain.

Poster in Herbarium about the range of activities supported.
Poster in Herbarium about the range of activities supported.

A lot of work behind the scenes goes on at the Herbarium and we were given a fascinating tour by a long serving Mexican botanist whose specialism was in the vast leguminosae or pea family. The Herbarium is a library of plant specimens and it is vast. Kew also promotes a lot of art work and installations.

Plant studies in the Plant Library; The Herbarium at Kew Gardens.
Plant studies in the Plant Library; The Herbarium at Kew Gardens.

Last year I joined again because of the David Nash wood sculptures and this year there are some fascinating willow sculptures. Kew always has such variety and this year I found all the different varieties of flowering cherry trees. Kew works hard to conserve wild plants and the seed bank has been set up and attempts are made to propagate endangered species like the Madagascan palm that Lucy Smith had illustrated.

One of Kew's famous historic trees, the Stone Pine or Umbrella Pine which there are so many of in  parts of Southern Spain and Portugal. This one grew its different shape as it was kept potted for so long in the 1800s!
One of Kew’s famous historic trees, the Stone Pine( Pinus pinea) or Umbrella Pine of which there are so many  in parts of Southern Spain and Portugal. This one grew its different shape as it was kept potted for so long in the 1800s!
Photo from Cabanas and seen in Kew with its name!
Photo from Cabanas and seen in Kew with its name! Retama  sahaerocarpa,  Family Leguminosae  papilionoideae.

 

 

have just about survived the course and will add some more details of that later and the beauty of suburban London in the Spring. Maybe a Spring poem is needed along the following lines and in memory of Robert Browning’s famous Oh to be in England, now that April’s here……..

Oh to be in London when the daffodils are out

And the streets with cherry blossoms…….

Hide the gardens turned to drives!

 

White on white, deadly and dangerous, white cottoncandy floss on trees, butterflies and moths, caterpillars and dogs,

imageI am trying to post every week but a little delay with finishing this one as I flew to London for my course at Kew Gardens. Much more on that at the end of two weeks here with Spring really in full blossom.

The sun has been out more in the Sierra and there are more flowers beginning to emerge. These daisies were on the old threshing part of Navasola central with a few small white butterflies enjoying the nectar. Other butterflies seen  have been clouded yellows,  large tortoiseshells,  and red admirals. There are a few more flowers but mainly in the warmer and sunnier parts at present. The temperature did shoot up on Thursday but there is at times quite cold breezes.  In Portugal we saw the caterpillar in the picture below. Quite striking and can be dangerous as its long hairs cause itching, irritation and there can be strong allergic reactions. I read a sad story in the Portugal News about a  small dog that had been sniffing around in some pine woods and collapsed with toxic shock. Even with medical support the dog died. N.B. Really important to get the dog to a vet if  there has been contact with the processionary pine moth caterpillar. As yet this creature has not reached British shores but we saw its cotton like bags high in the trees along the road from Aracena to Fuenteheridos. It is quite common in Southern Europe but the beautiful bird, the Hoopoe eats it below the pines. We do usually see Hoopoes on the ground below the pines in the area by the fort at Cabanas.

Pine processionary moth's caterpillar, hatched and ready to eat pine needles.
Pine processionary moth’s caterpillar, hatched and ready to eat pine needles.

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Although there is still yet no fruit tree blossom on our side, the north side of the Sierra, the climate on the south side has certainly helped the trees and many more plants to flower. This is a view from a beautiful finca along the south road to Aracena from Alajar.

And in London I am overwhelmed by the daffodils and the blossoms on the street trees, magnolia and camelias in suburban gardens. And the warm sunshine after all the floods. At the finca I had decided to move some celandine from where there might be some building disruption. I carefully put some around the pond area and up by the house. On returning to London there was plenty of celandine to greet me. A weed or wild, certainly self seeded along the path and around the trees in the back garden! Loads of it! More on Kew Gardens and my course to follow when I’ve recovered from a five hour working day learning to draw plants! Today was spent on the exact and precise drawing of a leaf. Tomorrow we branch out with some branches…….

Daffodils and celandine on the path of the front garden in London.
Daffodils and celandine on the path of the front garden in London.

The Wild Peony Forest! Signs of Spring at finca Navasola. Update on Birds Spotted or otherwise!

Wild peony forest
Wild peony forest

Spring is finally in the air but emerging much more slowly at this altitude and even in different places on the finca and in the Sierra. On the road to Aracena there are some almond trees in bloom and as you head  down to Seville lots of Mimosa.  The mimosa has caused a bit of a botanical debate and the mimosa on the finca by our house is different to the mimosa seen on the beach in Cabanas, Portugal. Neither are really called mimosa and are acacias, and originally from Australia.  However they are supposed to be good at preventing soil erosion with their roots but also around our house are plentiful seedlings and some emerging as young trees. We have a big decision to make about the mimosa tree as it is right where the solar panels should go. However, we do have a lot of younger versions willing to take over.

Mimosa in full bloom by the house
Mimosa in full bloom by the house

The wild peonies are natural to the area and seem to now be growing much more prolifically around and near to the old chestnuts. With the ground around the chestnuts having been cleared to collect chestnuts over the past few years, this might have helped the wild peonies. They are still emerging and look like mini forests near the chestnuts. Many also seem to want to grow on the paths.I have put sticks around them so that anyone walking might notice them and should I remove the one in the middle of the track at the entrance to the finca and put it in a wild flower garden?

More birds seem to be arriving and we are trying to distinguish the different types of warblers. The Great Tit seems to have finished trying to break into the house as it would regularly bash its beak against one window and then fly to the other side of the house and knock against that window! I had a lovely view of the treecreeper on the mossy rock outside my window while I was resting and feeling sorry for myself with toothache!  It brightened my day and I did attempt to draw it as I do not think I can ever capture on photo the birds around here.  One moment in your sight and then gone. It’s if they sense the binoculars and a camera, well at present forget it.

The birds seen by the fort in Cabanas are much easier to spot but would need patience and a long lens. This year I will try drawing them in their spotted spots. Hoopoes under the old pines, Goldfinches chirping and flocking together into the pines and onto the white broom. Tiny warblers by the fort in the shrubs; Bigger warblers flitting into the air over the almond trees; A few Swallows winging over land and beach.There were egrets in the almond fields and crested larks quite bold by the rubbish bins. House Martins attempting nests under the edges of balconies. And on the beach signs of cormorants and curlews, smaller waders like the whimbrels and redshanks, turnstones, ringed plovers along the muddy stones, sanderlings rushing along the edge of the tide, and this time one lonely oystercatcher! There has always been a vast variety of birds to be seen along the beaches of the Ria Formosa in February.

Spring in the Eastern Algarve: pretty or prickly , big or small

The beach and fort area by Cabanas seems to be teeming with bird life and emerging plants and flowers. The old pines have taken a battering from the elements but this seems to be unmanaged land and there seem to be no plans to replace them

The big and beautiful old pines by the fort,. Hoopoes and goldfinches seen around them.
The big and beautiful old pines by the fort,. Hoopoes and goldfinches seen aroundBermuda buttercups in the almond orchards with egrets. Bermuda buttercups in the almond orchards with egrets. 

In the almond orchards there are beautiful yellow flowers but these are not natural and  are resistant to pesticides, possibly a Well done to the plant world but these beauties are poisonous to livestock. Although called buttercups they belong to the oxalis family and can poison grazing animals. Therefore NOT the livestock farmer’s friend.

Prickly pears and white broom: lygos
Prickly pears and white broom: lygos
Parasitic broomrape  just emerging on the beach and looking for a host.
Parasitic broomrape just emerging on the beach and looking for a host.
Some waders, possibly whimbrels
Some waders, possibly whimbrels
Big birdd feet on the beach, possibly curlew, also seen and much bigger than the whimbrel .
Big bird feet on the beach, possibly curlew, also seen and much bigger than the whimbrel .

Portugal: the eastern Algarve in January and February

Fortaleza in Cabanas with Almonds
3 weeks later, no blossom but look for the almonds. It might take till September for them to ripen though!
Almond blossoms around the fort; January in Cabanas de Tavira
Almond blossoms around the fort; January in Cabanas de Tavira

Here as promised are some of the photos taken recently on short vacations to Cabanas de Tavira on the Eastern Algarve  along the estuary and  lagoons of the Ria Formosa. The area is a protected national park along the sand dunes and beaches but unfortunately some of the cliff side walks are privately owned.
We enjoy an escape to warmer weather and an earlier spring than in the Sierra Aracena even if it is only about 100 miles away from Navasola it is at sea level. Although it is the Atlantic Ocean it is warmer here because of the Gulf Stream and the climate is more Mediterranean.

Walking around the old fort in January I came across this almond blossom tree full of blossom and teeming with bees. It was very noisy as well as beautiful. 3 weeks later in February the blossom had gone and you can just see in the photo of the same tree the beginnings of the almonds.

More rain in Spain

The rocks are so green, with a carpet of moss and lichen.
The rocks are so green, with a carpet of moss and lichen.

How can we complain about the rain when it is filling our well and the pond. Will we be able to be self sufficient in water? It has to be the most essential part of our life here as there is no municipal water supply. That means the only body that can cut off our water supply is Mother Nature.

Here are some photos of the Finca dripping wet in February.

]Dripping trees

Not sure what we do about the mimosa tree and all the suckers it produces. Not a native species?

Our next post will be about our escape to the Algarve and a walk around the fort at the edge of the town of Cabanas. It is our favourite place for bird watching and although only about 100 miles from the Sierra Aracena spring is in full bloom and the swallows have arrived.

Nature needs Nurture

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