Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

European Spring

Last time I wrote we were in Hong Kong, from here we traveled to Belgium and to Mesen/Messines in the south of Belgium for ANZAC Day Commemorations. Here I was surprised to find the fields were not a mass of red poppies. There were one or two flowering along the waste land of the railway, but not at large in the fields. Thinking about this later I realised these plants prefer the infertile gritty soil of waysides. During World War One, the fields were laid waste, as were many of the towns, the perfect environment for the poppy. Today the land is agricultural and well nourished and so the poppies are not so commonly seen.
The rest of our stay in Belgium was in the city of Antwerp and spring was early, the hottest and driest on record, so dry in fact they recorded no rain for the whole month of April. In light of this, many of the bulbs had already finished their flamboyant spring show. The leaves on the trees were nearly all out and the frequent horse chestnuts were a mass of flowers, originally an import from the East coast of the US. Everywhere were hedges of beech with their flush of bright green new leaves evident. Many of the street trees are pleached or pollarded into towering mature hedges of trees. What appears to be a new fad in the suburban garden is the establishment of espaliers of deciduous trees. These were on trunks up to a height of about 2m with a further 1.5m or so, creating a screen around the boundaries of properties. Losing their leaves in winter then allows the light in winter to penetrate into to the garden, while still giving a sense of enclosure.
While in Antwerp we visited the botanical gardens, a small area of about one acre. Here the tulips were still in bloom, the perennials only just making headway. Unfortunately the glasshouses were closed the day we visited, being May May, a public holiday.
From Antwerp we hopped across the Channel to London to stay one night with friends, their flat over looking Clapham Common. This is a large park in South London, consisting of tree lined walks around large open grass fields.
Next day we flew to Billund, Denmark to visit yet more friends. The weekend found us in Copenhagen for the night, Denmark is not a large country and driving from one side to the other does not take long. The journey took us through a largely flat landscape of green, unfenced crops of barley, interrupted by the occasional copse of trees and eye piercing, sulphur yellow fields of rape seed. This crop is used to make a vegetable oil for cooking and margarine. All through, tall wind turbines slowly turn, generating electricity, even in the gentlest of breezes. Copenhagen is not a city with tree lined avenues, rather a few fine parks, well populated by the residents enjoying the spring sun. The spring here is a little behind London and Belgium and tulips were still flashing their bright colours about. Particularly interesting here was a wonder about the enclave of Christiania, an ex-military ramparts, probably of 17th century construction. After being abandoned by the military, hippies moved in and squatted in the buildings. Here is group of creative, alternative people living in the middle of a modern city. Nearly all the properties had small gardens, in front of what might be called bohemian homes, some of these not constructed along conventional lines.
Returning Give, the small town near Billund where our hosts live, the road is planted with trees, many lilacs, forsythia, and hawthorns. A very pleasant trip, with not a cloud in the sky until we got back when the clouds rolled in and the first rain for our trip began to fall. Mustn’t grumble, the poor farmers and gardeners desperately need the moisture, a thing we can all relate to!
Next up, Scotland and London.


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