Year of Grace, Day 154. Two gardens in Bonn

I’ve been having the privilege of viewing some spectacular private gardens recently. It’s the perfect season to enjoy them, as they are mostly planted with the stars of spring at the peak of their beauty – rhododendrons, azaleas, Japanese maples. Although my own taste for my garden leans towards the English cottagey style with their eclectic mix of ornamentals and edibles, all higgledy-piggledy, I was captivated by these.

And as usual, more than the planting and the design in themselves, I always wonder about the person or persons behind them. I wish I could meet her or him or them and sit down over a nice cup of something (or a wine glass) and chat about favourite plants and how to care for them and just ramble on — each comment leading on to the next, whether apropos or not. I cannot imagine a lovelier way to while away a sunny spring morning or afternoon 🙂

Year of Grace, Day 153. From laburnum to oysters (mushrooms, that is)

Now that the cherry and amelanchier are past blossoming and busy setting fruit, it’s the laburnum’s turn at centre stage. In just mere days of generous sunshine, its flowers have progressed from shy bud to full bloom. I love the delicacy of the emergent buds, and the daily excitement they  arouse as I anticipate their opening, from the moment they show just the slightest hint of colour. The laburnum’s blossoms, descending from the branches in wisteria-like clusters, though in yellow, not blue, have such grace, and are known also as Golden Showers (Goldregen, ‘gold rain’). Like their wisteria relative, they are also sweetly scented. And when the sun’s rays touch them with the first light of the morning, these flowers, aptly named golden, blaze gloriously, a contrast to the surrounding box and hazel and other thick undergrowth, still drowsy and dark in the comfort of sleep.

Laburnum in early morning

Laburnum in early morning

It’s a pity that the laburnum is toxic in all its parts, and thus not recommended in a garden with small children.  Once, in my garden in Leamington Spa, what I suspected were oyster mushrooms appeared in the trunk of an ailing laburnum tree. We had cut some branches that had died out, hoping to revive it. And there on a low, forked branch was a luxuriant clump of grey and beige layered mushrooms. It had been an experiment – I had, months earlier, taken the trimmings off bought oyster mushrooms and placed them on the fork. And quite promptly forgot about them. The mushrooms seemed unmistakably like oyster mushrooms with their characteristic layers and presented themselves so invitingly, looking succulent and luscious. However, just to be sure, I consulted with local fungus experts. They were kind enough to come at once and they identified the mushrooms without doubt as Pleurotus ostreatus — definitely oyster mushrooms. But as to these particular ones’ edibility, although oyster mushrooms are indeed edible and in my experience one of the more delicious of commercially grown mushrooms, I asked the experts if they knew whether fungi absorb the toxins of their host and if so, retain them unaltered. (They had not known the laburnum was toxic.) They said they did not know, but advised that in such uncertainty it would be wiser not to eat this lot. Besides, they added, their group did not condone eating mushrooms – on their fungus forays, their goal was specifically identification. Their subjects’ eating qualities were not of any interest, they said (making me feel like a greedy pig). I was, you can imagine, rather disappointed. But… better safe than sorry. I would feel such a fool to be poisoned by my own crop of oyster mushrooms growing on a laburnum!

I admit I am a fungus fanatic – fanatic not only to know the names of fungi that I come across wherever I am, but also their edibility. When I see fungi, the first thought that comes to my mind, after I’ve admired them, is – are they edible? And after I’ve looked them up and tried to identify them (this process is complicated and far from reliable, especially doing so from books alone) and checked their edibility, I wonder, will they be delicious? And yet, perhaps out of self-preservation and extreme cautiousness, I hesitate to eat any wild gathered mushroom, even when someone has positively identified it as edible. And, additionally, there are fungi that can be eaten and so assuage hunger, but make no contribution at all to stimulating other senses.

Well, this has been a rather curious bit of writing! I began with admiring the laburnum’s blooms, and that led, rather unexpectedly, to my fondly remembering my laburnum tree in England with its wonderful crop of oyster mushrooms that alas could not be eaten, and then onwards to my predilection for fungi.

As I sign off, there is a red squirrel, the European one, skimming like animated red fluff — shiny and silky with the sun’s rays glinting on  its fur — along a branch of the cherry tree straight ahead. These delightfully ruddy squirrels are almost extinct in England because the American grey ones brought over centuries ago, being more aggressive, have taken over. It is truly wonderful to see these sprightly creatures making themselves at home in my garden here in Bonn. (And when my children come to visit, they too are as enthralled with these red squirrels as I am.) There are three of them that wander in and out among the trees and shrubs, and often come very close to the kitchen door, looking for peanuts in their shells that we put out for the birds. They must have been burying their winter store of walnuts in amongst my planted pots. How do I know this? Because there are walnut seedlings shooting up among the potted tulips and sweet peas, and I certainly could not have planted the walnuts there myself!

Have a good day all! It is a lovely, sunny, mild spring day, and also a holiday in Bonn: Ascension Day (Himmelfahrt). The month of May is crowded with religious holidays, and the Rhineland, as a staunch Catholic stronghold, celebrates them all. And we who live here consider ourselves lucky to have these many days off, especially as May this year has been blessed with such gorgeous weather, perfect for being out and about.

Year of Grace, Day 152. The eye and the camera: divergent blues

By now it’s fairly obvious that I am quite partial to blue flowers. I never tire of trying — and oftentimes failing — to capture their intrinsic colour with my camera. I have yet to replace the two cameras that I have been using over the past few years – the first, with a built-in telephoto lens, lost to a Barcelona brigand; the second, to old age – its lens stubbornly refuses to fully open. These two, both by Canon, gave me a range of picture-taking flexibility without the weight (and the price as well) of digital single lens reflex cameras. And I was fairly happy with the images they have provided over the years. But there is one thing that has eluded both cameras and this temporary replacement, also a Canon, that I have borrowed from M — and that is, that dark hues of blueultramarine, cobalt, navy, and similar richly saturated blues – often come out purple or even, astonishingly, deep pink bordering on magenta. It amazes me and intrigues me why this should be so – that there is a huge divergence between what the eye perceives and what the camera registers. Nevertheless, the results, while not always true to their colour as my eyes perceived them at the moment of photographing, are still pleasing. Please click each photo for a larger view.

Of the three photos below, the left and middle ones register the closest to their perceived colours. The one on the right is actually more saturated — cobalt blue — in real life.

The columbine and irises below have the same hue — an ultramarine — in real life. These photos do not reflect the depth of their original perceived colours.

These clematis flowers, from the same plant, were taken with two different cameras, although taken one year apart. The one on the right comes closest to the perceived original ultramarine. I should add that the lens of the camera used on the left was made in China; that on the right, made in Japan.

Year of Grace, Day 151. A Drive to Blankenberg

Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, was a perfect spring day – sunny and warm (hot even, under the sun), but with cooling breezes. We visited Blankenberg, about 20 minutes away from Bonn, over the Rhine in Hennef. If it weren’t for our recent househunting programme, I would never have known about it. It is a lovely little village, perfect for a short, pleasant drive outside Bonn. I had not expected a castle: Blankenberg is more noted for its half-timbered houses, and the castle tower and herb garden just below were a lovely surprise. There were idyllic views of the countryside from the castle mount. Aside from the tower and foundations of the castle walls, nothing else remains of the once extensive structure, once known as Burg Blankenberg, the seat of the Count and Countess von Sayn.

From the tower, we drove a bit further into the village centre, and strolled amidst the well-preserved traditional half-timbered houses surrounded by blooming azaleas, rhododendrons, horse chestnuts, and lilacs.  I saw a house fronting the village square for sale, and I was moderately tempted, but managed to curb my romantic tendencies.

There were cafés offering seasonal treats – asparagus and strawberries, and because of the celebratory day and the glorious weather, there were quite a number of weekend visitors like us walking about. We were glad to find seats indoors – all the outside seats in the sun had been taken – at a restaurant advertising homemade ice cream. Strawberries and cream with pistachio ice cream and strawberry sorbet for me, and a trio of pistachio, lemon sorbet and raspberry for M. My strawberry dream (Erdbeertraum) was, true to its name, dreamy — sliced local strawberries macerated in a flavourful but not overpowering honey-based syrup, sprinkled with roasted almond slivers, and topped with whipped cream. Under the fruits were scoops of natural pistachio ice cream and strawberry sorbet. I stress ‘natural’ because all too often, pistachio ice cream from the gelaterias in Bonn are artificially coloured and flavoured. It’s truly a delight to partake of something simple and honest, prepared with care, and in season. A glorious treat for a glorious day!

Year of Grace, Day 150. Househunting in Muffendorf

I love half-timbered houses, known as Fachwerkhäuser in German. There’s something about the random positioning — horizontal and vertical and diagonal — of the oak timbers and their natural forms that creates such an attractive and charming pattern of black and white. We were in Muffendorf, a village in the south of Bonn, the other day, still househunting. And it was astonishing, and refreshing too, to find not only white plastered walls but also yellow and ochre.

Looking at a Fachwerkhaus always cheers me up. It’s its quirkiness that appeals to the quirky in me. I had had my heart set on living in one. But having tried to negotiate the extremely narrow treads and steeply spiraling wooden stairs — some dating back to the 1800s, practicality won. Were I decades younger and more agile, I would have definitely opted for a half-timbered house.

Year of Grace, Day 149. Fiery clouds and cheeky faces

After the rain yesterday afternoon, the sky put on such a mesmerizing performance. In the space of a few minutes, it turned from dark, looming and rather ominous to airy, delicate pastels. The photos below are as they were taken — no editing or tweaking.

And as the clouds drifted off from west to east and twilight fell, the violas flashed me their charming, cheeky grins. All’s well.

Year of Grace, Day 148. Walking in the rain in the Kottenforst

There is always such a magical light shimmering around the leaves of the trees in the Kottenforst. Most especially in the early spring, when the leaves’ fresh green casts an almost phosphorescent glow overhead. And the steady spring rain on Sunday heightened the effect even more.

With such luscious greenery around, even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits, even though my friend and I were thoroughly soaked as we took Yoshi the dog for his midday walk.

A brilliant start to the week — to have one’s eyes drinking such enchanting green! Verde, que te quiero!

In the Kottenforst

In the Kottenforst