The Girl in Blue Hydrangeas

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In my previous post, I called for all like-minded people to do whatever we can in our own, however small, space. Momentum is already gathering pace as groups of volunteers coppice woodlands, clear rivers and marshes, restore neglected stretches of dried-out canals,  clean up beaches and roadsides of rubbish and plant trees.  We also have to put more and more pressure on all governments to clear the oceans and to put a stop to pollution of our cities. There is also something else that is of great importance and each of us, even those with only a few yards of soil, can and should do – that is to plant as much as possible. The combined result of everybody growing a tree or two, and as many shrubs as could be accommodated behind each house or around a block of flats, would make city and town air much cleaner and our breathing easier. We can ‘grow’ our own oxygen. In cities like London there are places so badly polluted that the children are dying of asthma.

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In many parts of the world, it has become the norm to wear a face mask when walking or cycling to work, and yet it is a sinister sight. It is difficult for me to describe the feeling close to euphoria when on opening a door or a window I am enveloped by clear air,  beautifully scented with the smell of everything that is blooming in my garden. The pleasure doesn’t stop there. Butterflies fluttering above the flowers, their wings unfolding so fast that you have to strive to see the intricate patterns, almost collide with many bees, bumblebees and other insects. I have as much pleasure watching them as they have when drinking nectar and covering their legs with pollen that then is taken to their nests. Sir David Attenborough confirmed today what many gardeners and naturalists experience, that watching butterflies is greatly beneficial to our wellbeing.

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And the bees? Thor Hanson, the author of the informative book of the history of beekeeping and beekeepers, remarks “that every third bite of food in the human diet relies upon bees.” Honey and beeswax were used in traditional healing for millenia. Bees and flowers they feed on are connected, especially those of blue and gold colour, which they prefer. The scent of flowers also attracts bees and that is one of the reasons I plant so many highly perfumed roses and flowering shrubs. Another unknown but interesting fact in Thor Hansen’s book, among others, is the way some orchids attract bees to help them pollinate. They mimic the body shapes and scent of female bees to lure male bees towards them. Two million is the number of flowers bees visit to make 1lb of honey. It is the most compelling reason that I know to plant, plant and plant some more in our gardens.

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The abundance of plants attracts a large number of garden birds who nest in the ivy or in the hawthorn, both covering the walls of my garden. The birds take full advantage of my hospitality, although they like to supplement their diet with many berries in the garden.  In my previous post, The Tales of Nature, I have described how entertaining the antics of the fledglings are, and the garden birds in general.

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The starlings are great mimics. On hearing a little terrier yapping excitedly two neighbouring gardens down, they would also start ‘yapping’ to annoy the poor chap, launching into a high-pitched hysterical finale that was the terrier’s habit. To get me into the garden, they would ‘ring’ the telephone somewhere in the bushes, and needless to say, they would fool me every time. In the days when I used a typewriter (seems like 100 years ago), there would be a lot of ‘typing’ going on outside my kitchen, and the blighters were much better at it than I was. One of the blackbirds, displaying enviable intelligence, would come through the catflap at 5am every morning to supervise the breakfast being prepared. As I was cooking a cauldron of porridge for all the birds, he would first stroll through all the rooms downstairs on foot before coming back to the kitchen where a bowl of cooled porridge with beef dripping and sultanas was already waiting for him. It was uncanny how he worked out that it was a sure way to be served first and to be able to eat in peace and in some style, before the rest of the world (read: the garden) was awake and ready to squabble over the food.

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I am sure that most of us are tired of the problems of modern living – the overcrowded, unreliable commuter trains, the horrific rise in crime, especially in London, the congested roads and the relentlessly unsettling daily news, to mention just a few. There is only one respite to this, and that is to find time to relax in your garden among wildlife,  to walk in the countryside or woods close-by, and to remain, above all else, optimistic. I learned a long time ago not to stress about small stuff. We were recently told that thirty years of research has confirmed that even small amount of stress are dangerous and can affect us a few years down the line. Mindful of this, I follow King Solomon’s advice when he gave a ring to a newly-wed couple: “When you are very happy, remember the inscription inside this ring, it says ‘It will pass.’ When you are very unhappy, just turn the ring and remember ‘It will pass.'”

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