GREEN-VEINED WHITE – Pieris napi

Today while gardening a lovely butterfly came to check out some dark pink Oxalis flowers, it was a warm and sunny day here in West Cork, and because the two previous days we experienced soft Irish rain the garden was fresh and beautiful. The colours and the green shades were easy on the eye. And since we have quite a few wild flowers in bloom, we are visited by a good variety of visitors from the insect world. But today it was the butterflies that took away first price.  Yes, since I started reading the book “The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals” by Patrick Barkham, my interest in butterflies has intensified. Patrick Barkham first went butterfly spotting as a child with his father in Norfolk. His book documents his search for different butterflies found in the British islands. It is a slow read but quite interesting, I am hooked.
I think that the butterfly in my photos is a Green-veined White (Pieris Napi).

Biodiversity Ireland is holding a Butterfly Bash this week and we are sending records of all the butterflies we see into https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/start-recording

Lovely to have seen this striking butterfly today and I will be on the look out for more. I hope you enjoy them too.

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“WE ARE ALL BUTTERFLIES. EARTH IS OUR CHRYSALIS.” LeeAnn Taylor

FEED THE SOIL NOT THE PLANTS

For the past three weeks we have both been working in the garden.  I am told that it was an extraordinary wet spring and we have had a fair bit of rain since we came home too.  We lost one of our trees, a pine tree that stood at the back of the garden where water is inclined to collect.  Ian has found that the roots were totally rotten so no wonder that the storm caught and tumbled the tree.

And the garden was totally overgrown as would be expected, Ian soon had the little bit of grass in the middle of the raised beds strimmed. and the grass that was invading the path cut away.  While I started with the beds, some of which were full of Ranunculaceae with very tough roots systems.  The whole garden was also covered in Three Cornered Leeks with their lovely white flowers as usual.   One of the days I had some help from two of my small grand children and we sure had a day of fun, and yet we achieved a lot.

To our delight we found all sorts of vegetables that had survived the long winter rains and storms.  And then out of the blue I received an email from FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/)  to remind me that a course I had registered for had started, and this has been occupying my time totally these past few weeks.                             The course is called – Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food – and is run by the University of Dundee, Scotland.  It is immensely interesting and I have been enjoying every single minute of it, and learnt such a lot.  I had decided even last year that it is my soil that I should be putting time and effort into, and educate myself about what it needs, and running tests to see what it may be lacking, and what to do about it.  Anyway, all this the course taught me and more.  I also learnt about the C3 and C4 food types and how the increase in CO2 is affecting the nutrients of our vegetables and fruits, and the relationship between nutrient depletion in our soils, and less nutritious foods.  Something I knew very little about, and found interesting.

Anyway, together with Grow Observatory (https://growobservatory.org/) students were invited to take part in a communal worldwide experiment. (This was for certain areas but not my area in Ireland) so I did not take part in it.  However, the Citizen Science was also running an experiment as well as inviting us to ask our own question and in that case run our own experiment, and so I asked myself the question: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil? Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?  The course took us right through all the factors that are important to carry out our tests with hypothesis, controls, variables, data taking, analysis, and so on.  My experiment is set up, my bean plants have been sown and test kits arrived by post, I’m all set up for this experiment.

The two beds are totally ready for the experiment.  One is treated with compost from the bin and the other is treated with leaf mould, and later in the experiment I wil be adding the organic seaweed fertilizer to the latter.  Hedges have been cut real low to allow maximum light reaching the beds.  A rain gauge is in place in both the beds to measure precipitation.  And I am testing the actual consistency of the soil, though I know that it is mostly clay, has quite a bit of stones in it, and as I’ve already found out not enough organic matter.  Half the beds will be planted and the other halves will be controls.  Spinach is the other crop and radish also.  It is going to take up time but will be lovely to eat all the produce and enjoy taking all the measurements and learn a lot about my soil.

Not sure where all this is going to take me but I am sure enjoying it all.

I came across this lovely quote from one of the books by Jan Shellenberger. that’s also where I took my post title from:  I quote:

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.”

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And the view from our back garden, the minute the hedge gets clipped – I know I need to work on it a bit more – behind that rocky hill lies the sea.

FLINT STONE AND CLAY BRICKS

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I guess it is because I had become so used to the lovely honey coloured limestone on Gozo that I am taking so much notice of the red brick that is used so much in England and especially in Norfolk, it has its own beauty and is as natural as limestone seeing that the bricks are baked clay (earth).

And in Norfolk much use is made of flint stone in combination with red brick, the flint is found naturally in chalk, with layers in various shapes and sizes, flint is almost pure silica.  There is black flint and grey flint, the colours are due to impurities.  There is also rounded beach flint.  The flint has been used as a building material in Norfolk since ancient times and many archaeological material has been found in the surrounding areas made out of flint, it was a very useful material because of its hardness and sharpness.  Norfolk is also rich in clay and from the 13th century onward clay became an important building material in combination with the flint, giving the beautiful finish you see all over the area now.

And still in Norfolk, just a few days ago an abundance of wild flowers were already in bloom, like I showed in my last blog entry – GREETING SPRING – these are wild flowers and found while walking along the road-side. I was happy to see the first wild chestnut tree in bud and already showing the beginnings of a flower.

And so it goes on, ever discovering new things and rediscovering old ones, life is so interesting and fulfilling.

Meanwhile I am back home and working on my latest house improvement project (a little one), lining a walk-in wardrobe with wall paper to stop dust falling down.  And discovering that mice had eaten away some of the wiring covers….my little project has just become a very big one.

This is a very old house indeed.

 

GREETING SPRING

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“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden.”
Ruth Stout

A recent visit to the walled garden at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, UK gave us a fine variety of flowers already in full bloom.  How lovely a day it was, many birds were singing, and the scent of some of the flowery shrubs wafted towards us while we were watching the bees and other insects fly from one flower to another.

No better introduction to an English garden than in the early spring.

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A large variety of beautifully coloured and fresh spring flowers

The Witch-hazel catkins, Quince blossom,  Hellebores, and Rhododendron

Edgeworthia chrysantha flower and shrub, beautifully scented and new to me.

Ceanothus arboreus is a lovely shrub which blue flowers are loved by the insects.

 

Holkham Hall dates back to the 18th century, its extensive grounds consist of some 25,000 acres.  The walled garden was originally developed by Samuel Wyatt during the late 1700s and is now still under restoration.  It comprises 6 acres and is surrounded by a high red brick wall.  This was our second visit to Holkham hall estate and I have enjoyed both visits very much, last time we saw the deer grazing among the most beautiful ancient trees that are on the land.

A beautiful  Italian iron-work gate brought from Venice in 1908 makes for a great entrance into the walled gardens.

The few days we spent in Norfolk with Ian’s family, and this visit to Holkham gardens allowed us a nice transition from Gozo back to West Cork, it was a nice introduction to spring in the more northern islands of Europe.

 

 

FAREWELL GOZO

It is that time again, the time to say goodbye and to move on. West Cork is calling, my grandchildren cannot wait to see me again, and the garden is definitely in need of lots of tender care. I’m also dying to meet up with my family, friends and to reconnect with the art and social scene in Skibbereen. I’m restless and cannot concentrate on writing my blog, I’ve had little time for it also because for the past week I have been sorting and packing our stuff together, 20kg each. Winter clothing is heavy and large, books are heavy too. As I’m minimizing everything I own, I do not want to take extra stuff home, and even if I wanted to – there is no space in the suitcase. It is the weight that matters most in our case, and I bought one of the digital gadgets to weigh a suitcase but I cannot use it, simply because I cannot lift the case to hang it on to the scales! Hopefully we are going to be all right. Everything is sorted, organized and packed. Four days left, time for relaxing and for a last chance to soak up sunshine, because we are going to the land of rain and gray skies. Goodbyes have been said at my lace-class, book-club, library and friends here. Our last few walks have been beautiful.  I know that I shall miss all this glorious sunshine, and I am grateful that we had the opportunity to spend some months here enjoying this lovely island.

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MEMORIES IN PICTURES

Yesterday my sister left Gozo to return home to Lier in Belgium. We enjoyed two weeks of chat and sightseeing, though I must admit a lot of our time was spent enjoying coffee and cake in a variety of places around the island. Nevertheless we did manage to fit in walks and visits to various sights, but mainly we soaked up the spring feeling, the massive amount of wild flowers and the charm of Victoria’s historical narrow streets. As there is only one year between us we grew up quite close and shared a bedroom most of our childhood years, at night my sister would tell me stories which at the time fascinated me, they were of adventures we would find ourselves in. She still always brings me books, and much of our chats would evolve around book discussions, the love of reading we both share. We also both spent our working lives with books and people, she as an editor working for a magazine catering for libraries, and I as a branch librarian in a small town in Ireland.  Both have been very rewarding and enjoyable jobs.
20180304_143113-EFFECTS.jpgAmazing to see the banana trees on Gozo, Josefine could not believe her eyes.

Two sisters, Josefine and myself among the Mimosa flowers which are now opening.

St.Georges square where we spent time drinking coffee and listening to the bell ringing.

Tower of St.Josephs in Qala, and an example of a roundel found on a house in Ghajnsielem.

The fig tree already showing fruit and opening its leaves, poppies are flowering now too making the meadows very colourful, and a hoverfly on a lovely sunny day.

This Gozitan lady working her lace in the doorway of her house, a lovely sight.

More wildlife, this on a narrow pathway at Mgarr.

The narrow alleyways in Ir-Rabat never fail to charm anyone.  Josefine too loved them and we spent quite some time walking them, every time you do you discover more things of interests.

It’s quiet now around here, Ian and I going about our various tasks and peacefully enjoying the life.  The excitement of Josefine’s visit is over, a space is now empty, but memories will stay and lots of thoughts remain of our various chats and discussions.  A rewarding time it was, that is for sure.

THE BELLS OF SAN BORG

Friday morning, and what a glorious morning it was, certainly warmer than it had been for the last few weeks, even here in mild wintering Gozo it seemed that people had more of a smile on their faces, I think the warmth of the sun brings out this relaxed happiness in everyone. Tourists in their t-shirts had boarded the bus at the ferry terminal, and when I got on there was standing room only, but nobody would mind that as it only takes about five minutes to reach Victoria and that is where I also was heading. I needed to go to the head post office but otherwise I did not have much business to attend to, so it was that at 11:55 I found myself heading to St.Georges Square, there to have coffee and listen to the bell ringing of the Basilica which takes place at exactly 12 noon. It was, as always a treat much enjoyed (I’m Flemish – land of the carillon concerts and church bell ringing.) And because I had time on my hands I thought I would take another look inside the basilica, the only other times I visited there a service was in progress and I could not look around, but this time the church was almost empty. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, only my mobile phone.  So many treasures; The paintings, the architecture, the lovely murals on the ceiling, the marble used on the altars and in covering every surface, the gold and the bronze used in the decorations, the alabaster used in portraying the stations of the cross. I became quite intrigued and interested so when I came home I started to do some research. I soon learnt that the basilica has been built on the site of a Roman temple, and there is evidence from 1270 of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. George being on the site. The foundation stone of the present building was laid in 1672 and the church was finished in 1678. Although St.Georges was built on the site of a Roman temple, much archaeological evidence of the early Christianity in Gozo was found beneath and in the area surrounding the Basilica. There is a lot more to say about the history of this beautiful Baroque church, but it is not my intention to go into too much depth right here. The wealth of information on the internet is sufficient for anyone wanting more information. As I was soaking up the beauty and the peace of the place I was also thinking of a question I’ve had since I first heard the bells of the Basilica; are they manually rung or is there by any chance a bell ringer? And it so happened that I noticed that the door to the sacristy was open and I walked in to meet a young man to whom I put my question. The man happened to be Jonathon Sultana, the very bell ringer of the Basilica! He was very nice and soon put an answer to my question, that yes the bells are rung manually and by himself between four in the morning and eight at night. It simply made my day to know that the bells were being used manually and that it was not a recording.  The sounds of the bells of St.Georges are beautiful, one of the bells has a very deep sound, and that one is my favourite. I’m thinking of calling in there again very soon, more over because I missed some of the lovely items, like the floors of the Byzantine chapel which are paved with precious porphyry slabs, and the stations of the cross which are made from white alabaster.   I’d also would like a closer look at the Baroque organ, and listen to it even.  And have a closer look at the two paintings by Italian baroque painter Mattia Preti.

Part of the bronze main door to the Basilica, made entirely of bronze, manufactured in Verona on a design by John Grima.  And a welcoming angel in the most beautiful white marble. (or is it even white alabaster?)

Copies of some the beautiful paintings found in the Basilica displayed at San Ġorġ tal-Ħaġar museum next to the basilica.  The semi-dome on the right is found above the organ gallery (see also below) and painted by Giambattista Conti (1575), it depicts the veneration of St.George in heavenly music.  The semi-dome painting on the left is also by Giambattista Conti.

Organ Gallery of the Basilica with the 1781 Santucci organ

Painting above some of the side altars:  The rising of Lazarus (1677) by Giuseppe D’arena, and The Holy family by Giuseppe Cali.

Several different colours of marble used in the making of the altars.

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Jonathon Sultana, the bell ringer of St.George Basilica, dedicated to his work.  Something else not to be missed are the colourful stained glass windows in the dome, they were designed by Giovanni Battista Conti, who also produced the beautiful paintings in the dome.

2018-02-07 15.32.14Winged head of a cherub that formed part of one of the altars in the Basilica.  Sculpted by Giuseppe D’Avola after 1678.  Now displayed in the museum next door to the church.

The longer I stay on the island of Gozo, the more art and history I discover, I feel that I have not even scratched the surface!  How very exciting!

SPRING IN THE AIR

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
Pablo Neruda
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“I love the smell of rain and growing things.”
― Serina Hernandez
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“And the birds sang their songs of love. And the flowers serenaded with their sublime fragrances. And the whole world fell in love in spring!”
― Avijeet Das

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
A.A. Milne

“The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.”
Amy Seidl

2018-02-04 15.06.12“Spring is not a season; it is a mysterious illusionist who sets off fireworks in the depths of our soul!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.”
Charlotte Brontë