Friday, 31 August 2012

Travels on a floral theme

The floral bridges of Quimper

A recent visit to Quimper in Brittany. Quimper is the ancient capital of Cornouaille and in the Breton language is called Kemper which means confluence; of three rivers the Odet, Steir and Jet. This was my second visit in 23 years (the last time being the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution) and I was amazed to see beautiful floral displays on the bridges. The cathedral is dedicated to St Corentin, a 5th century hermit who in legend nourished himself on a miraculous fish which re-grew the bits he ate! The cathedral is also home to Santig Du, the Breton name for 'little black saint', who dedicated his life to helping the homeless. We left a loaf of bread on the table beneath his statue, which will be distributed to the poor, and were immediately rewarded by an enquiry about the car our friend had been trying to sell! There is a church in Cornwall, on the Lizard peninsula, dedicated to St Corentin who as well as being the patron saint of Cornouaille is the patron saint of seafood (and very good it is too). Trading links between Cornouaille and Cornwall were once very strong, and the Breton towns and villages have similar prefixes - Tre, Pen and Ker.

Outside the cathedral itself the floral displays are stunning. There was a lovely carousel on the themes of Jules Verne, including a mini Nautilus.
The Cathedral of Saint Corentin, Quimper
Floral display by the war memorial at Ploërmel, Brittany
If you are visiting this beautiful part of France be sure to call in at Les Perdinettes, place de la Roche, Lesconil. Opened in May 2012 by our friend Hélène Boisson, if you can read French here is a review! What does Les Perdinettes mean? Hélène is the granddaughter of Pierre Corentin Draoulec, who was known as Perdine, and returned to her Breton home after a high flying career in the media representing French singers and actors.

Hélène at Les Perdinettes
Pierre Corentin Draoulec, known as 'Perdine' with his wife in traditional headdress of the Pays Bigouden
Hélène transforms found objects into beautiful creations
A pair of French 'Bridge' chairs

Monday, 20 August 2012

Bugs, butterflies and a new neighbour

On Friday 17 August we held the 'Build a Bug Hotel' workshop. We had a great day for it and all enjoyed talking about bugs, looking for bugs, identifying some and building various homes for them. We used bug ID cards - twelve in all including beetle, butterfly, honey bee, wasp, earthworm, centipede, slug, snail, ant, woodlouse, garden spider and grasshopper. We found every one except the centipede and grasshopper - we heard the last one, but couldn't see it! I'd seen one earlier in the week, by the preschool fence.
Bug ID cards - we found nearly all of them!

After a general chat about which bugs we found scary or friendly, where they are likely to live and what they feed on, we took a tour of the garden. Under the cardboard and plastic is teeming with wildlife - and look what we found...

Common toad (photo courtesy Jo Cooper)
More about common toads from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust here

We saw some lovely butterflies, including a large white (otherwise known as cabbage white), peacock and gatekeeper butterflies. We also found a colourful stripy caterpillar which will become a Cinnabar moth.

Peacock butterfly on the preschool buddleia
 More about the Peacock butterfly from Butterfly conservation here
Gatekeeper butterfly on golden marjoram
More about the Gatekeeper butterfly on BBC Nature here
Cinnabar moth caterpillar
More about the Cinnabar Moth at Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust here

To encourage butterflies into your garden visit the RHS website and download the list of plants and larval habitats. I was very pleased that we have so many in the community centre grounds, not just in the garden.

After finding out where bugs like to live, we set about designing our ideal bug hotel and then made some small ones to take home. During lunch, we all tasted some lavender and wildflower honeys and put our apple cores, banana and melon skins on the compost heap.
Lavender honey and a splendid bug hotel design in progress
Designing the bug hotels

Mini hotel designs using straw, sticks and twigs, leaves, wood and stones to take home

The bug 'hotel' is constructed!

Without having to buy anything, we constructed the hotel from five old pallets, scavenged bricks and stones, donated logs and rotting wood, twigs, branches and dead leaves from the garden - here is the result! Thanks go to our intrepid builders (and their helpers).

Two old pallets, logs, bricks and stones, straw, twigs and branches for the first two storeys of the bug hotel
Four proud hotel builders, with their handiwork
The later addition of a bridge, to help bugs get to the upper floors!
The bug hotel is still a work in progress and later we will add some tiles, hollow canes and eventually a green 'roof'. If you can donate canes and tiles and other goodies to the hotel, come along to the Edible Gardens Open Day on 15 September from 11am -4pm and the Wellbeing Community Event on 22 September from 12-4 pm and add to it yourself!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Permaculture comes to Downham

What is permaculture? I've been finding out! Here's a quote from the Permaculture Association.
"Permaculture works with nature to make a better world for all. By observing the natural world we can see a set of principles at work.
As a recent convert to sheet mulching (see my previous posts Cardboard Conundrum and on lasagna gardening) and a long time foe of waste, I am curious to know more about it. I will find out shortly!

Contact for more details and to see if there are spaces available.

PLEASE NOTE PERMACULTURE WORKSHOP HAS BEEN POSTPONED TO 15th SEPTEMBER, 11am - 3pm to coincide with Edible Open Gardens Day.

Composting workshops at Goldsmiths Community Centre
Last week I attended the first of a series of free composting workshops. My garden is not really big enough for a compost heap and I've made do with a wormery instead.  What goes into a wormery is very different from compost ingredients. Once the compost bins had been built (out of old pallets) on Bring a Plant Day I was given loads of stuff to start it off, from chicken and guinea pig litter, grass clippings, newspapers and cardboard, tea bags, prunings and all sorts - even two bags of horse manure! 

Under construction
The compost bins - week one
Week three - doesn't show the huge pile of grass clippings yet to be added
I now have so much stuff that I am leaving it to rot down in black bin bags, in the empty compost bin, before adding it to the existing pile. The heap itself looked a bit dry the other week so I stuck a hosepipe in the middle of it. 

As I found out on the composting workshop that was the wrong thing to do! A closer inspection revealed slimy lumps of grass clippings and other bits of vegetation all stuck together and excluding the air. I must have a funny sense of smell as I thought it smelled quite nice, but Kristina with her professional 'nose' detected sulphur - not good.

We learned what can and cannot go into the compost heap, and the very good idea of preparing a mix of carbon (twigs, newspaper) and some nitrogen (green waste) before it goes on the heap. I think at first I had so much stuff that I just chucked it on willy nilly, ending up with a dry looking top layer.  If I haven't been at the centre for a week or so it sure mounts up - I think I may have been too successful in persuading everyone to 'donate' their waste.

After the workshop finished I forked most of the slimy stuff out and put it on top of the cardboard mulch, then filled the holes left in the heap with little twigs. Next time I will inspect it and do a more thorough job - possibly starting again from scratch!

There are still spaces on this great free workshop, on Wednesday 8th, Friday 10th and Wednesday 15th August. I learned a lot, and so will you! Contact Kristina to book: