Lately I’ve found myself on Google maps, zooming in and out, looking for green spaces that are new-to-me. After a year of walks in most of the larger parks in Amsterdam, I’m trying to find new routes and the other day I found a strip of green that I had somehow overlooked until now, only a short 10mn bike ride away from where I live.
So today, after being woken bright and early by Villanelle (my cat who likes to give unsolicited wake-up massages that may or may not include acupuncture with her claws), I decided to head there to enjoy the morning light. I served her breakfast, had a quick bowl of muesli myself and was out the door.
This green space is a strip of park nestled between roads and canals in Buitenveldert which connects the Amsterdamse Bos with Amstelpark. When I arrived around 8.30 it was quiet with birds singing their hearts out, later the traffic picked up and I could hear the cars a bit more. Still it was very beautiful in the warm sunlight, with spring bursting on all the branches with light pink pompoms and petals falling like snow.
There are grassy spaces under big trees, and large bushes with wood-chip paths in the undergrowth. In certain parts it is more like a tended garden with a multitude of different varieties growing within the confines of large squares with mossy brick borders. I particularly like that it is not perfectly maintained, meaning all sorts of plants and weeds are growing together, creating a rich ecosystem for bumble-bees, ladybirds, beetles and all sorts of other pollinators. It’s a nice addition to my regular walks around the city and I look forward to watching the plans evolve over the seasons.
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!
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.
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.
In between very busy days of work and some rain showers, I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with my Mum exploring the region around Le Touquet.
We spent one sunny morning walking around the fortified village of Montreuil-sur-Mer, which contrary to its name is actually not at the seaside (anymore). Instead, from the tops of the walls there are the stunning views over the surrounding countryside.
We were the only people visiting at that time and it was great to have the place to ourselves. We took our time wandering around the walls, walking up paths surrounded by tall grass and observing how wild flowers and ferns burst through every crack between the bricks.
I liked the freedom with which the plants were left to grow untamed. Later, we read a sign about how Montreuil-sur-Mer is actively protecting bio-diversity, leaving grasses unmown in places, not using pesticides and planting large beds of wild flowers visited by all sorts of bees from beehives placed around the property. It makes me hopeful to see nature thrive when humans stop controlling it so much…
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.
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!
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.
By the way, if anyone knows the name of this plant with yellow flowers, please let me know in the comments:)
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.
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.
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.
Greeting card action for charity is still on-going – find all the details here and don’t hesitate to reach out:)
In these weeks of confinement, some of the highlights of my days have been opening my mailbox to find cute cards from a friend living on the other side of Amsterdam, a lovely envelope full of collage materials sent as a surprise, a small package containing a hand-made mask in gorgeous Japanese fabric with swallows on it as a symbol of hope… These gestures have delighted me and made me feel deeply cared for.
Is there someone who you’d like to send a card to in these days? For a cousin’s upcoming birthday for example, or to celebrate how well a friend is handling living alone in confinement, or just to drop someone far away a message that isn’t digital and surprise them when they open their mailbox?
Here’s my suggestion: I’ll send one of my cards for you and I’ll donate the worth of the greeting cards to a local charity against domestic violence called Blijf Groep (read more about their approach here).
How it works:
Choose the greeting card(s) you like best
Send me an email with the number of the card, the address of your loved one and your message
I’ll copy your message in my neatest handwriting and pop the card in the post!
The greeting cards (including a recycled paper envelope) are 3€ each and postage is 0,91€ for NL/1,50€ for International. If you’re in NL, I’ll send you a tikkie. If you are abroad, you can make a bank transfer or I trust you to donate that amount to a charity close to your heart locally ♥
Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to share with anyone who you think might like the idea! Really looking forward to it 🙂
I am grateful for people who plant flowers in public places for all passers-by to enjoy. Yesterday during my evening walk I came across scores of these purple and white flowers, billowing out from improvised pots in front of a corrugated iron warehouse. They’ve been pummeled by the recent rain we’ve been having and are in different stages of withering which to me adds to their beauty.
I was particularly drawn to the flower pictured below, which looks like an accurate illustration of how I feel in these days of confinement, half-up half-down. Both optimistic and overwhelmed, hopeful and afraid, full of good intentions and struggling to get started, aware of my privilege and self-centered, happy to simply get through the day and thinking I should be ‘doing more’, glad to connect with people and fatigued by video calls… I’m doing my best to remember that all these contrasting feelings are allowed co-exist and making space for them by being kind to myself rather than judgemental.
As I start my fourth week of social distancing, I am trying to disconnect more. To let go of that tether that is the internet and its ever-updating news, and instead be more aware to things around me. I’ve worked from home to the best of my abilities, and had calls and creative session with loved ones. It’s also been a beautiful weekend of sunshine. I’m doing my best to be grounded in the present.
I’ve taken daily walks, mindfully keeping my distance from others, smiling at those I coming my way to ease the act of changing sidewalks. I’ve found a sunny bench to sit on and watch the world go by as I drink coffee and write my Morning Pages. In pots on the sidewalk, plants are showing off their beautiful colours and uncanny shapes.
One evening, I heard rustling under the sink, like plastic being moved around. When I opened the cupboard to see what was going on, a mouse popped out and paused for a moment on the edge of the bag that contains the recycling. We stared at each other for several seconds, motionless, before it disappeared behind the wall. I’ve not had mice before so it feels like this little creature came to keep me company in these days of isolation.
I’ve also enjoyed the feeling the sun warm my limbs as I read and moving around the living room to follow the sun rays making their way to land on my orange wall and bathe the whole space with glowing light late in the afternoon.