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.

Autumn in the Botanical garden

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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.

More mushrooms

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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.

Colourful succulents

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!

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For more pictures of plants taken on previous visits to the Botanical garden in Zuid, take a look here, here and here 🙂

Recharging at the Botanical garden

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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.

Bumble-bee bush

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I’ve been spending more time than ever in my home lately, what with working from home and social distancing, and though I’ve been tidying and decluttering, that does nothing to help when my thoughts are whirling around my mind like a washing machine.  The best cure for that, I’ve learnt throughout the years, is taking a walk around the neighbourhood.

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So between two rain-showers, I pulled on my shoes and strolled along, lost in thought, until I passed a beautiful yellow bush, that was buzzing. On closer look, I found that it was full of pollinators: flies, bees and especially many many bumble-bees.  I was amazed by the diversity of the bumble-bees: they varied in size, had different combinations of yellow, white and black stripes and even distinct ‘hair-styles’.  But they all went about their collection of nectar like bunch of hungry teenagers tearing into an all-you-can-eat buffet!

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I was thrilled to watch the bumble-bees buzzing around and to see such diversity. It was great to be reminded that even in such a small space between the wall and the side-walk, this modest garden is bountiful for so many pollinators and supports real bio-diversity.

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By the way, if anyone knows the name of this plant with yellow flowers, please let me know in the comments:)

New habits

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Here’s to the new habits that shape my days in this COVID-19 reality. It fascinates me how quickly we adapt and I welcome these fresh habits which definitely help to keep a semblance of balance in these tricky times.

  • Sitting in the sun for lunch with my tupperware of warmed-up left-overs, and then treating myself to delicious cappucino with oatmilk to help support local cafés like Slowth Brunch or Coffee District
  • The weekly Sunday evening zoom call with my family, where we choose a recipe and all prepare it separately, then catch up on how the past week went as we eat ‘together’.  Recommendations for series abound, as well as jokes and play on words!
  • My 30 minute bike-ride home from work has been replaced with simply shutting down my computer and heading out the door to soak up the late afternoon sunshine.  Walking along the canal, I have the pleasure of observing fluffy ducklings paddling with their parents, beaks searching efficiently for food on the water’s surface.  I weave my way, careful to maintain 1,5 meters distance from people enjoying an after-work drink on the grass and to not disturb the geese who hiss at me necks raised when I get too close.  The bluebells hidden among the birch trees are blooming spectacularly regardless of the pandemic.
  • A friend of mine lent me a puzzle and I’ve been enjoying the analog pleasure of searching for matching colours and the satisfaction of fitting the right pieces together. It’s an activity that brings me back to calm summer afternoons spent in the cool basement of my grand-parents’ country house many years ago…

Sitting by the water

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I’m grateful for the blue sky and winter sun, perfect weather for sitting peacefully by the water, without haste. A flock of white geese paddle by, as the sun warms my face. The willow branches sway in the wind.  Two moorhens putter about by the shore, before diving into the water repeatedly and snacking with gusto on their catch.  When a large boat passes by, the water brushes up on the rocks in small waves.  It’s so grounding to be focused on these simple scenes that often escape my attention.

Positive procrastination

With Paolo we’ve been joking recently about how many random things I can get done when I am procrastinating from doing my writing assignments.  I’ve been found baking spontaneous apple pies for instance, cleaning the bathroom or sorting out and tidying the attic (something that was on my to-do list for at least 6 months).

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When I’m feeling blocked and just can’t seem to find the way to start writing, I try and remember that taking a walk, while it does not contribute to getting words on the page, is generally a good cure for break my mental resistance. In the worst of cases, I tell myself that even if I still don’t write afterwards, I’ll have at least stretched my legs and gotten some fresh air.  In the best cases, I come back with a sliver of a new idea to work on.

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Saturday afternoon was one of those days, so after sitting frustrated for a while and uselessly distracting myself by reading other people’s writing, I decided to go out and catch the last of the afternoon light.  I set myself the challenge to attempt to capture the colour contrasts in that lovely low autumn light. So with my ISO set high, I looked around for bursts of colour to photograph while trying to hold my camera as still as I could.

 

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When the light faded and the cold got to me, I headed home, clear-headed. I even saw a beautiful pink sunset that I would most likely have missed were I staring at my computer screen.  My inner-critic probably also got a bit frozen, because it left me enough space to sit down and start typing when I got back.

Taking time to just be

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Last Sunday I kept an entire day free of plans, so that I could recharge my batteries.  I had some work to do on my writing assignment and plenty of other to-dos, but I decided to first take some time for myself.

I spent an hour meditating, sitting in silence and trying to focus only on my breathing (which in reality ended up being more like becoming aware of my incessant thoughts and letting them come and go).  It felt like a reset for my overstimulated brain, a welcome break from constant inputs.

Afterwards, since the sun made a welcome appearance after some very rainy days, I took the chance to go for a slow walk in the neighbourhood. I did my best to stay as much as possible on the sunny side of the street to soak up lots of vitamine D and watched people enjoying the good weather as I ambled along.

The autumn colours were beautiful, with colourful leaves holding tight to their branches and covering the pavement.  I also enjoyed observing the details of the last flowers remaining in people’s gardens, like this purple flower with its silky petals emerging from the strange black and green pod, and the petals around the remnants of this bordeaux-coloured flower.

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