Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: RHS - Greener-than-Thou?


The January issue of The Garden, the magazine for RHS members, just plopped on to my doormat, and it's a bumper issue devoted to the future of gardening and to questions of sustainability in particular. It's interesting to see a round-up of how large-scale gardening organisations like the RHS and Kew are tackling these long-term issues; all of them face similar problems. For example, most visitors arrive by car, yet should be encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint; and what can we say about the building of new hothouses, no matter how "green" they are claimed to be? The role of the Eden project in providing a campaigning platform on climate change issues has been huge, but then, presumably, so has their gas bill.

How we think about carbon output, sustainability and climate change
is complicated - and I feel totally confused. I'm thinking about trying
to do a carbon audit on myself in the new year, and wonder if anyone
else has done the same successfully? And where should we start? Is it
by growing our own vegetables, or is turning down the thermostat a
million times more important? That's what I really want to know.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Those Cheaty Voting Cyclists!!


Garden lovers all over Britain have suffered a cascade of emails from the Eden Project in the past month, as the Cornish eco-domes campaigned to win £50m of lottery funding for their new "Edge" extension. The last message I received was a dignified concession of defeat to Sustrans, the cycle network, which finally triumphed in the phone/email vote, and which will benefit from the cash.

However this morning there have been reports
that Sustrans supporters didn't quite play fair... Well, honestly. I
don't know why everyone's up in arms about it. Did anyone genuinely
believe that cyclists - constitutionally incapable as we are of
standing still at a red light, without, at the very least, sneaking
forward over the line - were going to behave like English cricketing
gentlemen when it came to voting? (Actually, what am I saying, England
cricketers are fabulously cheaty
too.) Anyway it's not as if cycling along a path is going to preclude
there being nice flowers and trees to look at too, is it...

Nevertheless, I find myself wondering if is it actually right to
organise people to block-vote like that. And when there was quite that
much money at stake, shouldn't it all have been regulated a bit more
strictly? I have had quite enough of the story about the dodgy
phone-voting on TV, without Britain's eco-charities getting into
trouble for it too. Anyway - if you want to know what the Lottery is
actually going to pay for - here it is!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Pylons and Porticos

Pylonsjpeg By Emma Townshend

Going for one of those amazing winter walks at the weekend where the light is extraordinarily clear, I thought a lot about landscape and focal points in the distance - maybe because I'm currently reading a book recommended by Alain de Botton, about all the infrastructure you see in a landscape. This Field Guide by Brian Hayes is an American book, but still manages very well to make me curious about every piece of rusting metal I see dotted around the English countryside. Pylons, water towers and grain silos are all explained in great detail, as are motorway junction interchanges, and telephone wires.

The so-called "Pylon poets" of the 1930s were mocked for writing
poetry that seemed to praise the scourge of the National Grid spreading
itself across the hills and valleys; Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden and
Louis MacNeice all got tainted with the brush  (even though Spender's
original Pylon poem doesn't seem all that straight-forwardly enthusiastic if you read it now).

But it reminds me of our current national debate about wind farms. I
absolutely love the idea of a landscape which combines respect for our
architectural heritage, with a delight in what is to come - and for me,
wind farms and pylons are exciting: a gorgeous, exhilarating sight. But
to listen to some Radio 4 phone-ins, you'd think I was completely
alone. Now I've got Brian Hayes, though, I know there must be other
people out there who like pylons.

A Nice Green Leaf: Pylon PS - Your Best Winter Pylon Walks

453pxgoonhilly_arthurBy Emma Townshend

A friend just emailed to say her favourite winter "pylon walk" was over Goonhilly Down on the Lizard, where the pylon factor is the Earth Satellite Tracking Station - known by those of us old enough as "Telstar", after the first satellite to be tracked from there. She says: "Not only can you stare at the beautiful dishes, pointing up at orbiting satellites, but there's a huge windfarm too and there's that weird noise the whirling blades make in the wind." And a two ton menhir if I remember rightly.

What's your recommendation for a raw-cheeked walk combining wild countryside and advanced technology?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Sexy flowers

By Emma Townshend

There was a brilliant programme on Radio 4 this morning (yes, see how I tricked you with the title and then actually I'm going to go on about botany, zzzz). It was about Linnaeus, presented by The Independent on Saturday's Anna Pavord. Carl Linnaeus shocked 18th-century England by devising a system of classification for all living things, and his plant taxonomy was particularly controversial because it was so - well - saucy. Linnaeus used the sexual parts of flowers to differentiate one species from another - which caused even more uptightness among the already uptight English.

For gardeners, Linnaeus was an amazing figure, but the thing I loved on
Anna Pavord's programme was hearing from Timothy Walker, head of Oxford Botanic Garden.
He is an unrepentant gardening showman, whose particular enthusiasm is

He explained that the problem for botanic gardens at the
moment is that DNA fingerprinting techniques are now being applied to
plants, and are revealing that the neat families worked out by
taxonomists aren't as clear as was once thought. It turns out that
about 10 per cent of plants need to be reassigned to completely new
taxonomic groups.

The bigggest controversy has concerned the sacred
lotus flower. It looks like a waterlily, it grows like a waterlily, but
is actually more closely related (according to its DNA) to plane trees
and proteas. You can listen again until next Tuesday, and it's a really nice, interesting treat.

A Nice Green Leaf: Linnaeus's Big Birthday


Just to remind you to give the big sexy guy a thought tomorrow - it's an important birthday when you get to be 300. (Actually, he was born in May, but the Linnaean Society is going to give out medals in his honour tonight, so that apparently makes it OK to celebrate all over again.)

My favourite story about Linnaeus is that he was terribly bossy, always made his daughters wear traditional Swedish dress, and that he slightly made up a whole chunk of one of his most famous travels. I don't know how true these two stories are, but they appear in Patricia Fara's excellent book on the subject. But if you want to quickly get a handle on botany's most self-regarding forefather, Jane Owen's article is a nice place to start.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Dodgy Green Tomatoes

By Emma Townshend

When it's raining this much, you have to stay indoors and just plan for next year. I was talking to a nice man dressed up as a Nasa space pilot on Saturday night (I don't think his qualifications were genuine. Think you know where this is going? Remember it's Emma not Catherine Townsend.) We chatted about balcony tomato growing. See what kind of conversations I get into at parties? Sigh.

One of my best tips for astronauts (and their wives) who are confused
about which type of tomato to grow next year, is the gardening blogs.
In particular, Hanna of Ohio always manages to make me smile. Check out her 2007 Tomato Tastings. She tries lots of different varieties and then posts her findings in
detail, with photos - which I find really helpful. Her comments are
hilarious, given that we're told she's a nice American grandma: "Will
Hanna grow this one again? No. The nice thing about pool boys is that
they are a dime a dozen. Great for a summer fling but when you are
looking for long-term tomato love, you need to find something with a
little more substance."

My favourite is probably the entry relating to "Rouge D'Irak",
adding "-Yes: that Iraq".  And if you want a true taste of internet
bizarrerie scroll down to the possibly spurious blog comment by Joey
Ballgaggio about tomato-related vomiting... If John Kennedy Toole was still alive I'd swear it was him, doing naughty posting.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: PS: Weird bloomin' stuff

By Emma Townshend

I forgot to add that the funny thing about the Sainsbury’s bulb is that it came with soil – four hardened discs of peaty compost dried like spacefood to be compact in the box. You pour Dsc00740_3on water and they Dsc00744_2rapidly swell up before your eyes to the dimensions of a large Nigella chocolate pudding. I honestly thought this was one of the most hilarious horticultural sights I’d seen for a while. I think that in particular four-year-olds the nation over will really enjoy it

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Happy Bloomin Christmas (again?)

There's still time to buy supermarket bulbs for you to plant for Christmas. Though they probably won't flower in time for the big day, they'll be gorgeous during the dead first weeks of January, when you actually need cheering up. And unlike some of the things supermarkets sell which don’t work, this plant project is a sure thing.

Dsc00734I usually buy some paperwhites and some hyacinths, but my favourite for the past few years (under the influence of my friend Phoebe, who always grows one) is amaryllis. My first one this year is from Sainsbury’s – it’s bright red and comes in a fairly restrained stone-coloured pot (£6.99).

However I now have my eye on the M&S one, which is an exorbitant £12, but which comes in a gorgeous slightly Chinoiserie container.

I also have to devote a bit of care to the one I grew last year, which
was £2.99 from the Co-op and turned out to be a total trooper. I don't
know how easy it is to get an amaryllis to flower well the second time
round: this one is still looking determinedly leafy, despite copious
helpings of blood fish and bone: any tips gratefully received (yeah I
know it shouldn't be me saying that).