Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Walk in the Park

I had two appointments this morning, by chance both on opposite sides of one of Milan's big central parks. The first one finished earlier than I expected, and I found myself with forty five minutes to kill. It was a glorious day - about fifteen degrees, bright sunshine and a clear blue sky, and instead of jumping on the tram as I'd planned, I decided to walk through the park.

I knew the trees were going to be stupendous even before I got inside, and I wasn't disappointed. Of course, I didn't have my camera with me, but I rushed around picking up leaves (good job I didn't have to open my briefcase when I got to my next client) for the scanner. Yes, I know I'd promised myself I wasn't going to spend any more time playing with the scanner when I should be working, but it was stronger than I was.

The yellow leaves are gingko - the tree I talked about in the last post. But I'm not sure about the others. Trees are not my strong point- I can manage the most common British ones but that's about all. The pointy one is perhaps some sort of maple? And the green and yellow ones are lime? But I give up on the red ones. They're about five inches long, and the ones that hadn't yet turned red were a bright orange colour. For some reason it didn't come out well on the scanner, so I excluded them from the pictures.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Autumn is full swing here now, although up to now temperatures have still been fairly mild - it's about 10° today, and that's more or less the lowest daytime temperature we've had. But it's been quite windy some days and the leaves are falling fast - I've been collecting them for scanner photos.

I wished I'd had my camera yesterday as I went down a road lined with gingko trees. Gingkos are used quite a lot in Milan as roadside trees and in the autumn are just a mass of yellow leaves. I was on the bus unfortunately, so couldn't steal one for the scanner. I'll have to find time to go back ...

For those of you who asked, I've still not been able to make the Chrysanthemum photo from a couple of posts ago clickable. I don't know why. These ones aren't either, so it must be something to do with them coming from the scanner and not the camera.

I'm still swamped with work and have hardly put my nose out on the balcony this week. I must find the time this weekend as there are bulbs still to be planted and things need moving into their winter positions. I suspect that when the temperature does drop it will do so with a vengeance.

The change in the birds that are around is a sure sign of winter coming. The starlings that a couple of weeks ago were massed in hundreds of thousands over the city are now long gone, and this morning I saw a robin in the garden. The one we had last year (the same, or this one's Dad?) had clearly established the horse chestnut tree outside my bedroom window as the centre of his territory. All through the winter I was woken up at 2 am by his singing. I'd wake up and lie snug in bed listening to this beautiful liquid song. I hope he comes back this year ...

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I had to spend four days in Casablanca for work last week. If you’ve never been, don’t put it on your wish list – the smog will take a day off your life for every day you spend there, and with the exception a of a few stupendous buildings it’s a phenomenally ugly town.

There are signs that they’re trying – the streets, which tend to be wide, are all lined with trees and there are various small parks and squares with trees and flowers dotted around the city. Palms abound, but I also saw lots of other types, including some ficus benjamina which made mine look like a bonsai. There was also an enormous old magnolia with a twisted and knarled trunk which must be fantastic in spring when it’s in flower.

The Casablancans don’t seem to be great balcony gardeners. It was 25° when I was there, so in summer the heat on the balconies must be phenomenal, and probably very little would survive. However, the richer, residential areas of the town are made up of villas with gardens – all surrounded by high walls and hedges. The most popular hedging plants were hibiscus, plumbago and bougainvillea – I’d never seen the last two used as hedges before, but in some cases they were up to fifteen feet. They were past their best by now, but when they are in full flower (or bract in the case of the bougainvillea) must look incredible. Except that in most cases their owners seemed keen to keep them under control and they all showed signs of having been cut into rectangular box shape. At the top the new growth was flowering madly, but down below everything had been chopped bare. It looked like those hair cuts where the person shaves their head right up to the crown and then leaves the top long.

What’s the point? If you want a flowering hedge, let it flower. Cut it back in the winter. If you want a nice rectangular shape, use privet or box or something.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Over two weeks since I posted - I've been swamped with work. The Indian summer didn't last long - a few days after I wrote the temperature suddenly dropped to ten degrees, and everything on the balcony went into shock. Not so much due to the temperature itself, as to the overnight change. Luckily we had forewarning, and I brought in the last of the more delicate plants. Around about the same time there was a really interesting post on Hanna's blog explaining exactly why some plants are more susceptible to cold than others. It had never occurred to me to think about why plants didn't like the cold before.

The temperature has now gone up a bit to around about 12° daytime temperatures and everything has got over the initial shock and settled down. My chrysanthemums are now in full bloom, and I used one of the big white ones to take the scanner photo below. The idea is not original - it comes from an artist called Katinka Mason. My personal favourite is her White Calla Lily. But when I tried, I was amazed how easy it was. You just lay the flower on the scanner and leave the top open while you scan. I use them for desktop wallpaper as you can use the black space for your icons.

I managed to grab a bit more sun last week though as I had to go to Casablanca for work. More about that in the next post ...

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