Botany and feminism

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #197

Recently I came across an event called A feminists’s guide to botany, and since those are two of my favourite topics, I was intrigued. At closer look it turned out to be an online botanical painting session, so I signed up as it sounded like a good opportunity to dust off my watercolours.

On the evening it was scheduled, as it got dark outside, I dug out my paint brushes, watercolours and thick paper, then covered my desk with some newspaper and settled down with a cup of tea.

The first half hour was an introduction about two women botanists of the 17th and 19th century, focussing on their art and how they evolved in the times when they lived. Forget boring art classes from high-school, this story-telling was captivating, nuanced and full of humour. I was so inspired by the tales of these bad-ass women who didn’t take no for an answer and went on to achieve ground-breaking work.

The second part of the session was dedicated to several short exercises with watercolour to loosen up, practise ‘really seeing’ our botanical samples and the negative space around them, playing with colours and learning some basic watercolour techniques. As the pace was quite fast, moving from one exercise to the next, there was no time for my inner-critic to come along and comment on my skills. Time flew by, I was in flow and really enjoyed experimenting with colours and techniques that were new to me.

It was a lovely way to spend the evening, the perfect Artist date, and I look forward to part 2:) The London Drawing group has a lot of different events coming up that you can join online, you can check the program here.

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!

*****

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

Repotting houseplants

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #192

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.

The Valloires gardens

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Dreamy colour palette

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #189

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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:)

Cooking with nettles

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Anyone who has spoken to me lately will know I am completely obsessed with my new weekly veggie box.  The contents are all fresh and seasonal, grown just 10km away from my house, in the west of Amsterdam (on the polder I spoke about in my last post) before being brought to the center by electric bike.

The contents of the box vary every week and it’s been bringing lots of joy into my life lately, especially in these COVID-19 times. Having lots of fresh greens as well as carrots, radishes and spring onions ready for use, is perfect for whipping up a quick salad between two zoom meetings while I work from home. I also like the fact that most of the veggies I wouldn’t normally buy (or even find) in the supermarket. I’ve been enjoying getting out of my routine and experimenting with lots of new recipes.

Stinging nettles are my nemesis in the wild (somehow I am always brushing a little too close when I take photos of other plants), but I’ve been enjoying preparing dishes with them in the kitchen.  I particularly like how mindful I need to be when cleaning the leaves. It’s possible to use gloves or a plastic bag around your hands, but I’ve found that simply using a fork to handle the nettles works fine, as long as I am concentrated. I enjoy carefully cutting the leaves from the stem and hearing the dry sound the leaves make as I drop them in the colander (it’s hard to describe, the leaves are not soft like spinach or salad, it sounds more like paper rubbing together…)

So far, I’ve made delicious linguine with nettles and sun-dried tomatoes, a nettle risotto, and otherwise just added remaining nettle leaves to my stir-fry.  If you have other nettle recommendations, I’d love to hear them:)

Grounded

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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:)

Unexpected charm

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BEHIND THE SCENES #2

Often I find myself drawn to plants that are slightly past their prime or have suffered under heavy rains.

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I really enjoy capturing the details of an rebellious cowlick petal, dried-out leaves, a slightly wonky flower or fragile frozen petals…  In a world where beauty is often constricted by strict norms, symmetry and fitting neatly into boxes, I love how nature has its way of showing that beauty can take many shapes and has nothing to do with perfection.

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Striving to ignore the messages of the media and being mindful of unrealistic expectations is a daily practice.  The unexpected charm of these plants is a wonderful reminder for me to be more accepting of my perceived flaws and loving myself as I am is probably the best way to resist a system that is not doing us any good.

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*****

This is a theme that I keep coming back to. You can find previous musings on the topic here, here and here🙂