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.

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.

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.

Observing mushrooms in the Veluwe

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #198

In the past few years, I’ve been travelling regularly to the area of the Veluwe, in the east of the Netherlands, for the pleasure of easily accessing nature to take long walks in the forest and heaths. This week I’m grateful I got to spend three fun days with a friend there in a cosy wooden cottage.

Our preparations revolved mainly around what delicious food we wanted to bring, as well as which notebooks and art supplies to tuck into our backpacks. We had a great time and though there were regular down-pours, we managed to take some long walks in the forest and collect pocketfuls of chestnuts. In the evenings, we relaxed on the sofa and chatted by the wood-stove, to the sound of the rain landing heavy on the roof.

Even in the Veluwe, it’s not always easy to get far from the road and the sound of cars, but armed with some tasty snacks from the bakery, we walked deep into the woods. With no real direction, we simply followed the intriguing shapes we saw in the undergrowth like a scavenger hunt. My hiking boots sank into the soft soil, made from layers upon layers of fallen leaves and mosses as I breathed in the rich smell of the forest.

The main highlight were the mushrooms. I was struck by their diversity, multitudes clustered by the dozen in tight bunches on decaying tree stumps, minuscule funghi on dead branches to large chunky brown ones, white ones that looked like lace, colours ranging from pink to metallic grey and even bright yellow ones that seemed to belong on a corral reef…

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As beautiful as it was to observe this abundance of species, I can’t help but mourn the fact that 85% of the biodiversity in the Netherlands has been lost, and we are not on track to meet the targets set up to stop this decline with the pressure of intensive farming and climate change. I can only dream of what this forest looked like twenty or a hundred years ago, and it’s vital that we safeguard what remains to make sure that in a not-too-far-away future the only trace that is left of these mushrooms is not just a few old photographs.

Recharging at the Botanical garden

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #196

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.

Sleeping snails

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #188

On a recent walk, I was searching for some interesting details to photograph and was rewarded with a few simple snails, napping peacefully on a leaf of their choice.  I love looking closely at their shells, admiring the texture and the elegance of the tight spiral. The lines on the snail below seem like they were hand-painted with ink.

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In an effort to better understand how ecosystems work, lately I’ve been looking up the role of different animals within them.  I am grateful for snails, who help with decomposition of organic matter and provide many of their prey with precious calcium.

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In my explorations down the internet rabbit hole of snail facts, I also discovered there is such a thing as aestivation, which is like hibernation but for summer.  When snails risk dessication because conditions are too hot or dry, they can go into aestivation to lower their metabolism until conditions improve.  I like this concept, and think I may adopt it as a perfectly good justification for these warm summer days when all I have energy for is napping in the shade:)

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:)

Impressions from the Amsterdamse Bos

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Last Friday, I went for a long walk in the Amsterdamse Bos  to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunshine and magic hour.  I ambled without destination or time-pressure, taking time to breathe and looking closely at the plants along the way.  Spring has done wonders since I took photos there on a cold windy day back in the early days of confinement in March.

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The wild flowers and purple grasses are popping up everywhere, brightening the path with their delicate shapes and burst of colours. I took a break to write my ‘Late-Afternoon Pages’ on a bench by the water, accompanied by the clamorous song of countless birds perched in the trees all around.

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There were plenty of new leaves showing off beautiful patterns and colour combinations. It felt so relaxing to wander without haste for several hours, enjoying the softening of the light, until my stomach started to rumble and I decided to make my way home, the sun low in the sky.

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Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)

 

 

 

Budding leaves

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If you are cooped up indoors and can only go to the supermarket and back with a self-written permission slip, this post is dedicated to you. You may be wondering what spring looks like out there,  well let me tell you it is magnificent!

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In between the flurry of zoom meetings and skype calls, I’ve been taking walks in the parks around my neighbourhood.  On Friday, the sky was overcast and it was cold and windy, but I went deep into the Amsterdamse Bos and walked for a couple of hours in no particular direction, letting myself be guided simply by interesting-looking branches with budding leaves.

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From afar there was not much to see, but when taking a closer look, the textures and colours were amazing.  Soon the trees will be green again, and I am so glad to have the possibility to witness the transition of the seasons and observe these wonderful details.

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A quiet walk in the forest

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After spending too much time reading the news on Saturday, I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air, as it is unclear how long we will still be free to do so.  I took my camera along and did what is best when my mind gets overworked, which is to enjoy forest bathing and focus on details.

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So far in Amsterdam we are still allowed walk outdoors freely, as long as we keep our distances from others.  There was a cold wind blowing, but the sky was bright blue with wispy clouds floating by. Spring is progressing undeterred by what is going on for us humans.

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It felt really good to be among trees that are coming back to life after winter, with tender leaves budding and catkins of all sorts. I liked how the sun shone through the leaf above, creating a tiny scene with the shadows.  As I was walking quietly, a male pheasant crossed the path and disappeared into the undergrowth, leaving me just enough time to admire its bright colours.

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I was also captivated by this surreal-looking fungus which looks like very delicate skin. A quick google search leads me to think it might be a Wood Ear Mushroom – but I’m not sure and would love to know more about it if there are any experts reading this:)