Last weekend I took a little walk near Amsterdam Zuid station. Despite the biting cold and a short rain-shower here and there, the plants seemed keen on showing off their fresh beauty as I made my way around. It was so bountiful, with dashes of unexpected colour calling out for my attention every few steps.
A tiny magnolia tree in front of a brick wall (the shape of its unopened flowers reminiscent of the claws that my cat Villanelle is so determined to sink into my flesh when she sits on my lap to cuddle.)
The rugged green petals of an intriguing tulip, ready to unfurl.
The pink exterior of a bud just about to reveal its fresh green leaves.
A flush orange bush with tiny popcorn puff flowers.
The deep shiny green of these leaves wrapped so beautifully around each other.
On the last day of 2020, I took a long solo walk in the Amsterdamse Bos. It was a calm sunny morning and I wanted to be outside and feel the cold air on my cheeks as I reflected about the crazy year that was coming to an end. The path I chose to walk down was a bit muddy at the start which I guess discouraged other walkers and so I was alone nearly the whole time, accompanied just by birds singing and fluttering from branch to branch. As I strolled along slowly, it turned out to be a treasure trove of gorgeous winter details. I especially fell in love with this beautiful purple colour – also to be found on the photo on my last post. I will never tire of the unexpected colourful details to be found in the forest and the joy of observing nature as it moves through the seasons.
Today I’m happy to share a few more pictures from my recent visit to the Botanical garden. The picture above was taken through the glass at the back of the greenhouse (which is not open to the public at the moment due to COVID-19). Glad to see the cacti and succulents are clearly thriving with the reduced human presence;-)
In the outdoors part of the Botanical garden I took my time looking closely at the myriad of different species to spot some interesting details. I love the texture on the back of this leaf. It looks to me like a map of Amsterdam with wonky little canal houses on both sides of the leaf-nerve roads.
As always, I was on the lookout for colour combinations that catch my eye. These pinkish young leaves are lovely and I like how they gradually turn green as they mature.
I also liked the delicate simplicity of these pointy leaves, just a slightly lighter colour than the green around them and not quite symmetrical.
One morning last week, I was disturbed by the sound of a chainsaw coming from one of the gardens that my balcony overlooks. I went to check what was going on and to my horror, found that a tall conifer was being sawn into pieces. The combination of the sound of the chainsaw as well as the thud of branches and logs crashing to the ground below made me very anxious and sad. In about 20 minutes it was over. Silence returned and all that remained of the tree was some scattered sawdust.
But this is not a sad tale about neighbours preferring a little more sunlight over a living tree. Coincidentally a few days later, I went to help at my local CSA where over the course of two days volunteers would help plant over 1000 trees that will grow into a thick hedge around the crops to protect them from the wind. It felt like a chance to set things right.
It’s impressive what a small group of people can achieve with team work, motivation and the right guidance. It was a cold Sunday morning, barely a few degrees above zero, but I had piled on lots of warm layers and working with our spade warmed us up immediately. We made precise trenches, digging out the compact clay. Then placed the trees twenty centimetres apart. We broke the clay soil into smaller chunks and after mixing it with rich compost distributed it around the roots. Finally we watered the trees and added a layer of mulch (steaming autumn leaves salvaged from a nearby golf-course) around their base.
There was a wonderful atmosphere, chatting about all sorts of things as we worked, and the sun even came out over the beds at the end of the afternoon. The trees may look a little underwhelming right now, but I am really grateful to have participated and cannot wait to see how the trees wake up in spring, growing together to protect the crops and create more bio-diversity.
We rounded the day off with some delicious glühwein whilst warming our cold fingers by the fire. Cycling on the way home, I was rewarded with a beautiful moody sky over the water.
Planting trees is a very effective way to combat climate change and it’s easy to contribute even if you don’t have a garden. Search for initiatives in your area to participate in person or donate to. If you are in Amsterdam, for example you can consider supporting this local food forest which is crowdfunding at the moment. Another easy thing to do is using Ecosia as your default search engine, so each time you satisfy your curiosity you’ll also contribute to planting trees. Feel free to add other initiatives you know of in the comments too!
Botanical gardens are a wonderful outdoor place to retreat to in these COVID times and because the plants evolve so much over a short period of time you can return regularly and feel like you are discovering a new place. No matter how often I go to the Botanical garden in Amsterdam Zuid, every visit is different and new details pop out every time.
On that cold morning, I first went to the French consulate to apply for my passport renewal. The process these days involves two temperature checks by the security guard, waiting room with face masks, handing over my paperwork to the clerk on the other side of the plexiglass added to her desk and a whole lot of hand-sanitiser gel… I’m very glad that they are taking careful precautions, but couldn’t get out of the stuffy office and into fresh air fast enough. Luckily, the Botanic garden is just a few minutes bike ride away:)
Apart from the people working in the garden, I was the only visitor, so I could really take my time strolling through the alleys, unworried about people getting too close, and slowly marvel at the variety of plants. The highlight that morning was the fall colours. Reds, pinks, yellows and oranges catching my eye all around me, the last ones hanging on the branches, on the ground, or landing among beds of other plants forming new creations…
As I start taking pictures, my breathing always deepens and I enter into a lovely state of flow. I am unaware of time passing as I crouch down to look at the ground at what treasures I might find and drop my knees into the soggy soil to closely look atthe lines and textures on the plants.
I’ll share more pictures from the Botanical garden soon. In the meantime for pictures of my previous visits click here. If you are in Amsterdam, I highly recommend a visit, you can find all the details and adjusted opening hours on their website.
Last weekend, I was happy to come across some bushy ferns on my walk in a park in the West of Amsterdam that I was exploring for the first time. I love ferns and enjoy every opportunity I get to practice capturing the beauty of their fronds (which I have learnt is the name of the large, divided leaves on ferns).
The orange-brown tips of the leaves caught my eye as I walked down the path, such a lovely autumn colour. I love how each tiny leaf has minuscule symmetrical lines.
On looking closer I was intrigued by these intricate dark grey rows which seem to be made of small beads. If I’m not mistaken these are the core of the frond before it opens outwards with the leaves.
From the front, they look like a multitude of fingers hugging each other tight one last time before unravelling. I’ve mostly come across ferns that uncoil from a circular shape (so poetically named the fiddlehead), but had never seen a fern growing this way. If anyone knows the name of this species, let me know as I’d love to find out more about it!
For more ferns, take a look at the ferns in the Botanical garden in Cologne and winter ferns in the forest near my home-town.
One of the reasons I love the Botanic garden in Amsterdam Zuid so much is the amazing collection of succulents and cacti. Because of Covid-19, the greenhouses are currently closed to the public, but luckily there is still a huge collection on display outside. There are so many different species, all more beautiful one than the other, so I tried to pick out a few that caught my eye.
The succulents seem to have thrived thanks to the very sunny indian-summer we had lately, and there were some intriguing flower stalks and plenty of vibrant flowers.
Along with the symmetry of the thick leaves, I can’t believe how well-coordinated the colours are, like these golden-brown and grey ones with pastel green at the very centre.
Or how the tip and edges on the leaves are bright pink. It’s as if a child had taken a paint box and simply combined their favourite shapes and flashy colours, and the result is so playful!
On an autumnal morning this week, I checked the forecast to see if I had a few rain-free hours ahead of me, and decided to take myself on an artist date to the local Botanical garden in Zuid. It had been a busy week of climate demonstrations, some taking place just a few blocks from the garden in the heart of the Zuidas, Amsterdam’s business district.
Though the protests were non-violent with a festive vibe, and I did not feel worried about COVID (thanks to respectful 1,5 meter distancing and every participant carefully wearing their mask), being surrounded by many people meant that I’d stretched my social boundaries and my introvert self needed to recharge. Spending a morning in the Botanical garden, reconnecting with myself by soaking up the beauty of the incredible variety of different species, was just what I needed.
I arrived just after opening time, the sun was peeping out from behind the clouds from time to time, it was a little misty, the tiniest drops of dew pearled on the surface of flower petals.
I had the place to myself, apart from a few birds, including an indecisive grey heron who flew back and forth over the length of the garden with heavy wings, squawking loudly, until he seemed to have found a suitable spot. I explored at my own pace, slowly making my way along the pathways, drawn by the colours and observing the minute details.
I was fascinated by these little pods, I’d seen them when they are grey and dried, but not with these neat 70s browns. It’s hard to see here, but they also have this funny sort of trunk sticking out of their centre.
It was the perfect way to start the day, breathing in fresh air, taking time to just be, feeding my senses with all this natural beauty. It was also a tangible reminder of why we need to take care of our planet and its amazing biodiversity, and why it is worth sometimes getting out of my comfort zone to bring awareness to the climate crisis.
I rarely buy cut flowers because their social and environmental impact makes me cringe. Usually I am content with my many potted plants or, if I really crave a burst of colour, a small bouquet of wild flowers picked on the fly.
However last week I treated myself to a large bouquet with a clean conscience at Lokale Bloemetjes, a self-pick farm next to the CSA where I get my veggies from in the West of Amsterdam. It was wonderful to stroll through row upon row of different flowers, grown without chemicals, taking the time to observe each one before deciding whether or not to add it to my bouquet, all the while knowing this supports a local business contributing to increase biodiversity.
Once back home, I sorted the flowers by similar colours and popped them inexpertly into glass tomato-sauce jars that I had lying around and they’ve been doing an amazing job at brightening up several corners of my flat on these first rainy autumn days.
Before I left to France for over a month, I moved all the plants from inside my flat onto the balcony, where they would get naturally watered by the rain in my absence. I wasn’t sure what to expect on my return, and was agreeably surprised to find that they were in great shape, to the extent that I nearly felt insulted that they were thriving so well without me;)
This week in the course of walks in the neighbourhood, I was lucky to come across three undamaged pots, discarded by their previous owner but perfect for me to repot those of my plants which were getting cramped. So yesterday afternoon I put on some music and got to work on the balcony, performing what I visualise as the gardener’s equivalent of the hermit crab dance, where each plant gets repotted into a larger container leaving a pot free for a slightly smaller plant to expand.
One by one, I transferred the plants from the biggest to the smallest. Coaxing the bundle of roots out of its pot and placing it into the rich soil in their new pot, enjoying the handfuls of cool dirt that I carefully nudged down the sides around the roots, leaving me with a dark rims under my nails and the calm satisfaction of knowing the plants have a bit more space for now.