I came across a squirrel lying on the grass. At first I thought he was asleep but when I got closer I could see from the involuntary twitching of limbs that this squirrel was close to death. I watched him close his eyes and breathe his last breath. I have no idea why he died but it reminded me of a recent bereavement in my own family. I came across a poem by Michael Prihoda which provides a nice tribute to the little fellow.
I have often wondered what happened to our family of geese once they have flown away. I imagined they split up. But today our family of geese returned. Only for a short while but they let us know they were here and I was able to go out and take a photo. So now I know they stick together, at least for a while.
When I look back at my photos autumn was coming from early September when the dogwood leaves started to turn red. 6 weeks on and the dogwood has lost most of its leaves leaving the red stalks. We have a red maple rising above the dogwood and the scene is so beautiful that I got out my paints.
Astronomically autumn starts at the equinox (September 23) but meteorologically it starts September 1st so we are nearly 6 weeks into it. I decided to record the changes in my photos throughout the autumn so I will keep adding to my movie as we move through October and November.
Shorter daylight hours and colder nights are what trigger leaf drop – or senescence – but frost and rain can damage leaves and cause early leaf fall. Plenty of sunshine is needed to encourage concentrations of colour pigments which help to intensify leaf colour. Our cold spring and hot summer will have helped ready the leaves for a beautiful autumn display, but it also hinges on what the weather does now. Today was like summer again blue skies and temperatures in the low 20’s.
Leaf fall or senescence, is an “altruistic death” allowing the degradation and redistribution of nutrients produced during growth back to other parts of the plant. This strategy evolved to maximise the fitness and survival of the plant. Leaf senescence is highly complex, involving multiple genes and numerous biological, chemical and physical processes. At the heart of it all is a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what gives leaves their green colour, absorbing and reflecting different hues from the colour light spectrum, as seen in a rainbow. In leaves it absorbs mainly red and blue light, reflecting green, and it is this reflection that makes leaves appear green to the human eye. In autumn, chlorophyll, mainly in deciduous plants, is slowly broken down and reabsorbed by the plant, diminishing the green colour of the leaves. It is this reabsorption that ensures they spring back to life the following year. As chlorophyll is broken down, pigments called carotenoids and flavonoids are revealed and it is these, again, through the absorption and reflection of different colours from the light spectrum, that are responsible for the yellow and orange hues of leaves. Sugar concentration in the leaves also increases anthocyanin production, which causes some leaves to turn a shade of red.
So that’s the science…here is my film of autumn to winter watch.
But my most enjoyable experience was on the beach pottering around the rock pools with my daughter and watching the tide submerge and reclaim them. The deep crystal clear pools, on the north side of the beach at Portreath by the harbour wall, were ful of life - darting blennies, sea squirts, numerous varieties of seaweed, molluscs and other shell fish. Tide dependent rock pools are habitats that a gardener cannot create. But then I learnt that several of the pools had been carved out of the rocks to prvide a bathing place for Lady Bassett!!
I have always been fascinated by rhe idea of flying. My dream came true when, as a geologist working in Saudi Arabia, I spent quite a lot of time in helicopters. The advent of drones has opened up a whole new world and I often thought it would be great to get a birds eye view of the world through a drone. I finally bought one to add another dimension to my garden learning project and, thanks to the piloting skills of Navid, this is our first effort at filming the garden and surrounding area. What this film does is allow the garden to be seen in the landscape.
Over the next few days I made several trips to this location, and other flowering plants in the field and recorded the bees and hornets that were feeding on the plants. I found that there were at least five species of bee in this small area – honey bee, white tailed bumble bee (the most abundant bee), red tailed bumble bee, forest cuckoo bee, and a so far unidentified bee. There were also hornets and hover flies that mimicked the bee in colouring and behaviour. Two things struck me - the busyness of the bees and how all these differemt species were coexisting peacefully in the same small area.
I discovered that there are currently 24 species of bumblebee resident in Britain. Seven species of bumblebee (the ‘Big 7’) are widespread across most of Britain. These are: Red-tailed (Bombus lapidarius), Early (Bombus pratorum), Common carder (Bombus pascuorum), White-tailed (Bombus lucorum), Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris), Garden (Bombus hortorum), Tree (Bombus hypnorum). There is only one bee that produces honey – honey bee.
Over the years we have come to know and love the cycle of arrival in April, pairing and mating, nesting for about 4 weeks when the eggs are hatched. First sight of the fluffy chicks, and then their steady and rapid growth to look like footballs and then dinosaurs, slowly transforming into mini Canada geese and then growing to a similar size to their parents. Then watching them learn to fly and soon after leaving us. The whole cycle lasts about ten weeks from first sight of chicks (April 28th this year) to when they fly away (July 10th this year) – probably to the large flocks in nearby fields.
In many respects we have the ideal habitat for geese.. A small pond with no competitors other than the occasional heron, a large closely cropped lawn that enables them to see anyone or anything coming from a distance. An adjacent field with an abundance of long grasses, and some trees for shade when it gets too hot.
I learnt that Canada geese mate for life and its possible that the same couple come back year after year. They are impeccable parents sticking close to the chicks all the time they are with us, standing up to anyone or anything that gets to close, and standing no nonsense from the chicks who obey every instruction. If another goose comes close the male becomes quite aggressive and if the chicks are old enough they line up behind the male in a show of solidarity and defiance. Their threat displays involve head pumping, bill opened with tongue raised, hissing, honking, and vibrating neck feathers as well as arching the back and flapping wigs. On one occassion I witnessed the whole family, led by the male, see off another goose who decided he also liked my garden.
The only downside of having geese in the garden is the enormous amounts of waste they produce. It doesn’t smell but it does attract flies in hot weather. I have to think of it as natures process for recycling.
This summer, as I have watched and recorded the life unfolding in my garden I have come to appreciate just how caring and attentive the geese are towards their chicks. They are always on the lookout for would be predators and are fiercely protective of the family who respond in a disciplined way when they sense danger. They have been the easiest subjects to photograph and film and their absence has left me with empty nest syndrome.
It's little wonder that artists like Claude Monet have been inspired to paint water lilies floating on a reflective pond. In 1890 he bought a house at Giverny and in 1893 purchased a meadow near the property which contained a pond fed by the Ru River. He hired at least six gardeners who gradually shaped the meadow into a garden of willows, irises and water lilies specially imported from Japan. He painted the gardens around the house and then turned his attention to the water gardens, painting them repeatedly between 1897 until his death in 1926. In all, he produced more than 250 oil paintings of his lily ponds and admitted "These landscapes of water and reflections have become an obsession." Monet's water garden and one of his paintings are shown above.
I would not be surprised if the gardener who designed my garden incorporated Monet's paintings of his water garden into his a vision for his own water garden, and I am the fortunate person to see his vision realised over 40 years later. Making my film prompted me to ask, who is the greater creator? - the gardener who lays out and stimulates nature to enable plants and animals to recreate his living cultural artefact decades later, or the artist who in a few hours or days makes an artefact that will never live or change. Perhaps its not something that can be judged, both involve imagination and creativity and that is enough.
But I do know that I am grateful to the gardener who invested his time, money, effort and creativity in creating a water garden that I can experience, enjoy and appreciate everyday, which provides a natural environment in which many plants and animals flourish, and therefore makes a valuable contribution to the natural world.
I wondered how Monet would have painted my water garden and came across an app called Dreamscope that contained a Monet artist filter. Here is the digital painting that it thinks Monet might have created.
I discovered that Surrey has 41 different butterflies of which 22 are common, 15 are rare and 2 are regular migrants. So far I think I have identified six varieties and another that has yet to be identified. Over a week I observed four varieties in the field - Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Marbled White and Common White which liked the thistles. I also saw another brown species that I wasn't able to photograph (one of the fritillaries?). By the lake I saw the Meadow Brown, Large White and Common Blue. I also saw the Speckled Wood and Cabage White in the woods. Different varieties appear at different times so I will keep warching for other varieties.
Butterflies taste with their feet. They have taste receptors on their feet to help them find their host plants and locate food. A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet until the plant releases its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemoreceptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identified the right plant, she lays her eggs. A butterfly will also step on its food, using organs that sense dissolved sugars to taste food sources like fermenting fruit.
Adult butterflies can only feed on liquids, usually nectar. Their mouthparts are modified to enable them to drink, but they can't chew solids. A proboscis, which functions as a drinking straw, stays curled up under the butterfly's chin until it finds a source of nectar or other liquid nutrition. It then unfurls the long, tubular structure and sips up a meal.
Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85ºF to fly. Since they're cold-blooded animals, they can't regulate their own body temperatures. The surrounding air temperature has a big impact on their ability to function. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF, butterflies are rendered immobile, unable to flee from predators or feed. When air temperatures range between 82º-100ºF, butterflies can fly with ease. Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either be shivering or basking in the sun. And even sun-loving butterflies can get overheated when temperatures soar above 100° F and may seek shade to cool down.
Once it emerges from its chrysalis as an adult, a butterfly has only 2-4 short weeks to live, in most cases. During that time, it focuses all its energy on two tasks – eating and mating. Some of the smallest butterflies, the blues, may only survive a few days. The need to mate is therefore and urgent task. Initially butterflies find each other using colour and sound. But at this stage a decision is made about whether to mate based on the pheromones that both sexes give out. In many species, the female requires the male to perform a dance before she will allow him near. He delicately flies around her, whirring his wings in the hope that more pheromones waft in her direction. If she is impressed enough to accept, she will change her posture, letting the abdomen protrude from between her wings. I witnessed butterflies dancing in many occassions. sometimes for just a few seconds other times for over a minute..
Gillian uses three imaginative cognitive tools to help us make sense of the natural world (1):
1 sense of relation: the innate human desire to form relationships and, in this way, to engage with our surroundings.
2 emotional attachments with features or objects in the world we encounter or make
3 Creating or claiming special places/spaces By exploring the natural world and creating special places in it and in our imaginations we not only develop knowledge of the natural context but we develop emotional connections with it.
I would like to include a fourth tool that uses imagination to connect us in ways that are personally meaningful to our environment.
4 Creating cultural artefacts By making an artefact with cultural meaning that has been grown in the natural world when we connect our imaginations, emotions, physical bodies and creativity to a particular place and moment(s) in time..
Making cultural artefacts such as photographs, drawings, paintings, movies, digital stories, poems or other creatve writings, or any other form of self-expression are important means for us to connect and relate ourselves and our lives to the natural environment. Through the process of making (creating) we create emotional attachments to the environment, and create special places in the environment and in our imaginations. While the product (the artefact) enables us to share our meaning making with others, and this can be facilitated through the sorts of technology I am using here (a blog).
David Gauntlet (2) shows that the process of making something is ecological in the sense that the act is fundamentally about connecting things that were not connected before to make something new that has value and meaning for the maker. "Making is connecting because you have to connect things together (materials, ideas, or both) to make something new; Making is connecting because acts of creativity usually involve, at some point, a social dimension and connect us with other people; And making is connecting because through making things and sharing them in the world, we increase our engagement and connection with our social and physical environments." Making an artefact with personal and cultural meaning in our natural environment using our imagination, draws on all these concepts of 'making is relating and connecting': Carl Rogers' concept of a creative process captures the essence of this process.
Perhaps the most significant cultural artefacts we create in the natural landscape are our gardens where we play at creating new landscapes within the affordances of the spaces we own or can influence. 'A garden is an actualisation of what city dwellers consider nature to be, a garden is organised wildness' (4). The very idea of a garden that we have created connects directly to Gillian Judson's third cognitive tool 'Creating or claiming special places/spaces'
'Perhaps the most important benefit of gardening is the freedom to establish and define one’s own territory, vital for many animals in creating confidence in the security of the immediate environment. In our own garden we can make our own decisions, give free rein to our creative impulses, make our own mistakes, and learn from them, change our minds, watch and observe the consequences of our actions, gain some insight into natural processes, and tie ourselves to the rhythm of the seasons.'(4:164)
Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, and when cared for by their owners they require imagination in designing the space, the development of specific knowledge about plants and soils and their nurturing, and effort and resources to develop, maintain and sustain them over a long period of time. They are an important part of our everyday self-expression and become part of our cultural legacy as they are passed from one owner to another. Indeed, as gardeners we are as much curators (I am the third curator of my garden) as we are creators. And through our hands on involvement, they are also the means by which we come to understand the nature of nature as we engage in the process of making and maintaining. Neither a work of nature nor one of art we get to know when they have been finished; we must surprise them in the process of being created so as to understand them to some degree.(J Goethe cited in 5). A view that is shared by Seddon(4) who regards gardening not as a retreat but as an entrée into the world: ‘In one’s own garden, one is in contact with the whole globe, both cognitively and imaginatively’.
I will be trying out these ideas and using the approach of growing cultural artefacts inspired by my garden with a small group of education masters students from Beijing Normal University who will be visiting me later this week. You can see what the BNU students made of the idea here.
Here is my initial experiment in response to the prompt - create a 1min movie (cultural artefact) inspired by the garden that relates the garden and gardening to learning, development, education and/or teaching?
1 Judson, G. (2018) Cultivating Ecological Understanding and Engagement with the World through Imaginative Ecological Education Lifewide Magazine #20
2 Gauntlet, D. (2011) Making is Connecting, The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011, 232 pages
3 Arjen Mulder https://tuinvanmachines.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/en/lifes-artefacts-tenthousandyear-garden
4 Seddon, G. (1997) Landprints: Reflections on Place and Landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5 Create Innovation (undated) Between laboratory and garden: an ecology of values 'The Noah Laboratory: Constructing Soil' – John Newling, The Collection, Lincoln. http://createinnovation.org.uk/resources/publications/between-laboratory-and-garden/