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 to 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.
Sometimes all that’s needed for a full reset is spending an afternoon on the beach with a good friend, relentlessly whipped by the wind, hair flying in all directions, enjoying the sun when it appears from behind the clouds, until every ounce of stress has been blown away.
The beach is quite empty, with just a few kite-surfers performing impressive jumps and skids in the shallows. We sit watching the waves, talking peacefully and enjoying the snacks we brought along, carrots dipped in hummus, crunchy chickpea crisps, fresh figs…
We take tentative steps in the water, only to realise the sea is not that cold and so we walk along the shore, tiny waves lapping at our feet, sun on our cheeks, chatting as we go.
Fine white sand travels in mesmerising sweeps over the surface of the beach, piling onto our blanket and back-packs, grain by grain, until all our possessions are partially buried and every inch of our skin is covered in sand.
When I get home and I shake my belongings out on the balcony, I release sand from the folds of my towel, it comes pouring out of the side pockets of my back-pack, I brush it off my legs as best I can, and I realise I’ve brought home enough sand for a mini-beach of my own.
Only for a little while, as I go about cooking dinner, I leave just a few last grains of sand, safely tucked in between my toes, reluctant to fully let go off that beach feeling.
As night falls earlier, covering the city with its cloak of humidity, I’ve asked myself once or twice already whether I should turn on the heating but it seems way too early in the season. So far I’ve resisted and instead, in the evenings, I’ve been pulling on an extra jumper and spending more time cooking myself hearty meals. This never fails to warm me up, with the added bonus that the flat is filled with the aromas of the ingredients mingling in the pan or the oven. I’ve been trying a few new recipes, but mainly preparing familiar dishes, comfort foods for chilly evenings. One of those is torta alle mele (apple cake), its delicious smell happens to be wafting over from the kitchen counter as I type these words:)
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.
Back in July, during our stay in Le Touquet, my Mum and I spent a wonderful day together exploring the gardens of the Abbaye de Valloires.
We enjoyed the drive, trusting the GPS as it guided us on the scenic route through villages with cute houses and inviting gardens, along dense crops and fields full of cows. We even proceeded when the GPS directed us down a very narrow-looking path surrounded by marshes and high grasses, praying we wouldn’t come face to face with another vehicle and very relieved to get back onto a proper road and make it to the abbey.
After a few clouds had cleared, it turned out to be a lovely sunny day. We took our time to stroll through the five themed spaces on different levels of the property, observing the multitude of different species. Apart from the stunning symmetrical beds at the foot of the abbey, containing roses of all sizes and colours, there is a vegetable patch, a section with ferns, one focussed on the textures and colours of trees and bushes…
The garden is beautifully maintained and the variety of textures and colours buzzing with pollinators is so rich, it’s hard to know where to direct your attention.
After a delicious lunch in the garden’s café, sampling the locally grown vegetables and home-made desserts, we went back to the rose garden to enjoy the calm and beauty some more.
Lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, feeling the breeze come through the open door to the balcony and reading uninterrupted for several hours.
Not setting an alarm and being woken up by the sound of a grumpy and insistent jay.
Having a spontaneous skype call with a friend in the middle of the day.
Taking a calm evening walk lost in thought as grey clouds slowly fill the sky and being cooled by the thick raindrops falling lazily down on my way home.
Walking through rows of trees laden with apples and pears, carefully choosing the fruit that look ripe and unspoilt, then turning them gently upside down until they break off neatly into my hand. Filling my tote bags full of them, as the smell of rotting fruit wafts up from the grass, black and orange butterflies and wasps happily gorging themselves at my feet.
Reserving a time-slot and popping on my face-mask to go see a photography exhibition and being able to linger in front of the snapshots I like best.
Exploring the Beatrixpark at night and searching for the perfect spot, away from the light pollution, to watch lightning majestically rip through the sky.
Armed with our swimmers and a picnic containing an unreasonable amount of brioche and cake, my friend Eva and I took a long walk through the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen headed to the coast.
We sauntered through the woods and dunes, stopping here and there to lay out our picnic blanket in the shade for a snack and a peaceful chat. It was very calm, finally far away from the sound of traffic, and since it was a Thursday there were few people and many animals, undisturbed by our presence. We even had the pleasure of quietly observing some kingfishers, flying speedily back and forth over the canal giving us glimpses alternatively of their bright blue wings and orange chest, and diving at lightning speed from a branch into the water to catch fish.
The highlight of the day was dipping into the sea when we made it to the beach in the late afternoon sun. After walking for several hours, a swim was exactly what my body craved. It was divine to enter the water, feeling the sand and shells in between my toes, small waves lapping at my calves. When we got deep enough and were ready, we finally surrendered our entire bodies to the cool water. Mine wasn’t what you’d call an active swim, no, it was a glorious release of every muscle into total relaxation, a blissful soak, the joy of floating along with my toes peeping up on the surface, carried by the sea.
I’ve been in France for a month already and how these weeks have flown by. They were my last working weeks as I have left my job. I worked hard until the end and now I am excited take some real time off, time to reflect and think about what next. It feels like such a luxury now to not need to rush to get back to work or fret about work-related questions. I’ve really been appreciating spending time in the garden, a wonderful risk-free place to relax in the COVID times.
I’m taking time to sit on the bench in the garden and slowly write my Morning Pages while the sun warms my legs, surrounded by yellow flowers on thin stalks.
Time to watch bumble bees feasting on the lavender bush and different types of butterflies joyfully fluttering from other parts of the garden, keen to get their share too.
Time to look up at the eucalyptus tree, planted in memory of the time we spent living Down Under, its leaves different tones of green and even red swaying in the wind against the bright blue sky. Its thick bark peels off in strips, that crunch underfoot and its fragrant leaves bring me right back to memories of playing in the bush as a child…
Last week, on a quiet Friday morning I went for a walk with my Mum and her partner at Marly-le-Roi. We did our usual round through paths beneath the tall trees and then they chilled on a bench while I went to explore the place that had caught my eye.
Whereas the grass is yellow and dry through most of the parc for lack of rain, there is this large dip teeming with young trees, waving reeds and wild flowers. I made my way around it slowly admiring the gorgeous colours and variety of plants.
At one point I stepped on a dry branch close to the side and startled something. I just caught sight of the backs of a couple of deer bounding away before they disappeared into the thick of the reeds, leaving no trace.
I love the colours of this little eco-system, the pastel pinks and silvery greens combining with the light reed tops and darker greens of the shrubs. This space is so lush and wild in contrast to the highly symetrical layout and trees trimmed in cone-shapes of this part of the parc. I am glad that these little of bushy pockets remain for the wildlife to take shelter and thrive.