Looking closely

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.

Over a thousand trees planted

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #205

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.

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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!

Happily mixing soil and compost (photo taken by Lisa who works at the CSA)

Autumn in the Botanical garden

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #204

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 at the lines and textures on the plants.

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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.

Rainy afternoon baking

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #203

On a grey afternoon, when it’s cold and raining on and off, when the sky is so dark I’m tempted to turn on the lights in the middle of the day, I feel like some comfort food. So I light a beeswax candle and make my second at baking the amazing Swedish chocolate cake, with the very poetic name Kladdkaka, in search of the perfect gooey-fudgy core.

I’m grateful for quiet moments of concentration as I measure out the ingredients, add the cocoa powder to the bowl and marvel as it gradually changes the mix to a rich brown colour, watch the butter melt beautifully in the bottom of a small pan before adding it to the dark cocoa until the mixture all slick, then buttering the tin and shaking it like I am panning gold then tapping its edges lightly to coat a thin layer of cocoa powder on its surface and sides, before carefully scraping as much of the mixture as possible into the tin (while leaving just enough for a reasonable licking of the bowl!).

I then watch the oven like a hawk, keeping an eye on the texture and making sure the cake cooked no longer than the ideal time (13 minutes!). I am glad to say, this second try was much better than the previous one… though I think I’ll have to make it again soon just to be sure to keep getting better at it;)

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PS: this is the recipe if you want to try it! Let me know how it goes:)

Autumn details

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #202

My daily walks have been keeping me sane and connected to the season as it evolves. I’m grateful for all the details that catch my senses as I am strolling along.

Tiny drops of dew shining on hairy seeds.

The smell of wet autumn leaves decomposing at the feet of the trees and sensing the layers of humus that came before them as the soles of my shoes sink into the ground.

Orange seeds bursting forth from bright pink flowers.

The distinct sound of a woodpecker jabbing away at a tree and the flash of its red feathers as it flies to its next pecking spot.

Mushroom clans where it seems like the elders are looking out for the playful young ones.

That sound when you kick through a thick pile of dry autumn leaves and the joy of their multitude as they float upwards and land again, each one slightly different shape and colour than the next.

Natuurpark Vrije Geer

Thanks to the beautiful autumn we’ve been having, I’ve had the chance to go walking in lots of different parts of Amsterdam lately. I vary my destination based on which friend I am meeting up with, how long I have until the next predicted rain shower or if I am in another neighbourhood for some errand, and I usually try to loop through a park if possible.

The other day I needed to pick up second hand gum-boots that I’d found via Marktplaats in Sloten, an area of Amsterdam where I rarely go. While planning my route on Google maps I spotted a small green area and decided to take a look on my way back.

At first I thought I couldn’t enter the park and that it was just a green wetland for birds as there were many coots and geese pecking around in the grass undisturbed. But I cycled around the perimeter until I found an entrance and a plaque with the name Natuurpark Vrije Geer.

The sky was grey as I walked along the path. The park had recently undergone maintenance as lots of reeds and grasses had been cut around the remaining shrubs and trees. It was quiet, with birds flitting here are there among the willows, tall reeds, ferns and autumn colours…

I also came across trees laden with funny fruit that look like a small brown apple with tentacles. Some light googling later on led me to the Dutch name mispel (or medlar in English) which is a plant that has been cultivated since the Roman times and carries fruit into the winter. Apparently you eat the medlar when it is overripe and has become sweet like apple sauce. I’m curious to try it!

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Back home I read up about the history of the park. I found out that in the 90s the city of Amsterdam was rapidly transforming meadows and nature in the area into constructible zones and also threatened to run the tram line through this space. There were protests against this, which led to a local referendum in which over 200 000 people voted. Luckily 90% voted against housing construction and that’s how the park is a thriving ecosystem to this day. I found it interesting to read that the municipality was surprised that so many people showed up to vote for keeping a piece of land barely anyone was aware of before. To me this is an important reminder of how vital it is to involve citizens in decisions that impact their environment.

Click the links for more info about the referendum for Natuurpark Vrije Geer and the fauna and flora it harbours (in Dutch).

More mushrooms

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #201

It’s that time of year again, after the switch back from daylight saving, when night falls so early. These days around 5pm it’s time to light candles on the window sill and curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of tea and a good book. A good thing about not having a job at the moment is that I have chance to go on walks in the middle of the day and enjoy those precious hours of daylight.

It’s been rainy on and off, but when I spot some blue sky or it seems it will be dry for a little while I pull on my shoes and head to whatever spot of nature appeals to me that day. As I put one foot in front of the other, I process my thoughts, reflect on my writing assignment or potential applications I could write… I also keep my eyes peeled for small treasures like these tiny mushrooms among beds of moss.

200 weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #200

Here are some festive plants to celebrate 200 weeks of gratitude for the abundance of wonderful people, places, events and plants that brighten up my life:) 2020 with its unexpected challenges has highlighted more than ever how much I have to be grateful for, and the many big and small things that I must be wise not to take for granted.

When I started nearly 4 years ago, I had no idea what this series would turn out to look like. I’ve found there is something very powerful about taking time weekly to pin-point something I’m particularly grateful for (even if it is just the joy of an umpteenth walk in my neighbourhood, relaxing on a day off or the imperfections of a specific flower). It has become a practice I look forward to and plan to continue:)

I took a look through the archive and dug up seven of my favourite posts from the last 100 weeks. Reading these posts transported me right back to those days in different places or moods, plunging me directly into what was going on at the time, what season it was, how I felt…

Before I leave you with some flower confetti, I just wanted to say I’m also really grateful for people reading along and for your interesting comments and feedback, for sharing how things are in your part of the world (and for helping me identify plants I want to know more about;). THANK YOU!!

Focused on ferns

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!

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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.

Walks with friends

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #199

In the last few days, we’ve been blessed with some beautiful weather, and I’ve been trying to soak up warm rays of sun while it lasts. As the measures to curb COVID-19 get stricter again in the Netherlands, I realise how lucky I’ve been to be able to go on safely-distanced walks with my friends in the months since the start of the pandemic.

Though in the past my modus operandi was heading out my front door spontaneously and strolling through my neighbourhood by myself, since March I’ve had the joy of regularly meeting with different friends for a breath of fresh air in one or the other of Amsterdam’s lovely parks, instead of going to the cinema or sharing a meal.

The rhythmic motion of putting one foot in front of the other is so grounding and perfect for catching up, hatching plans and dreams, and speculating on how the next months will unfold.

We also discuss mundane things like latest tested recipes or series we are bingeing, watch goats hidden among high nettles or hunt for the corner of the park which catches the very last rays of sunlight… making these moments a real balm in moments of loneliness, difficult decision making and uncertainty about the future.

Sometimes our walks include an ice-cream, a good coffee or a ginger ale with a side of fries, but just the act of simply getting together and airing thoughts that have gotten stuck in a loop, and sharing a chat and some laughs is enough for me to feel human again.