Websailor's Wacky Wildlife World

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A quirky look at wildlife. To be taken with a pinch of salt, but with more than a grain of truth!

A Summer Resolution

Last week I made a Summer Resolution. To get out more! The house, garden and computer, not to mention a husband, keeps me tied down a lot of the time and when I do go out it is usually for a fundraising event for WWF, as I did this weekend.

Last week was different, though. I paid a visit with a friend, to our local Botanical Gardens. Now I don't know about you but somehow I don't seem to get to the local attractions very often. Much like people who live by the sea but rarely go to the the beach, I know there is a lot to see, but I just never get there!

Living on the outskirts of a large city it would be easy to think it was all concrete, tarmac, glass, artificial lighting and traffic pollution. However, we are blessed with some beautiful civic parks, country parks, fine houses and gardens and, of course, the Botanical Gardens. It was a lovely day and to explore so many different Mini wildlife habitats in one day was a joy. First opened in 1830 at a time when explorers were bringing back vast quantities of exotic plants, it has been extended and improved periodically ever since.

The first experience encountered takes the breath away, literally! I have campaigned many times for the protection of the Rainforest but I have to say we entered the humid, hot example of a rainforest with trepidation and made a hasty exit into the fresh air after a few minutes. We returned later for a closer look but it is not easy with steamed up spectacles! It is not a habitat in which I would be comfortable, that's for sure.

The plants are wonderfully exotic specimens, fortunately not showing any signs of the weird and wonderful creatures that inhabit such places as far as I could see! Weird names like Nile Cabbage, the stinking Dutchman's Pipe etc. Bananas, Yams, Rice plants, Casava, Sugar Cane, Cocoa, Coffee, Arrowroot, Pineapples, Mango, Paw-Paw, Peppers and Ginger were all here. Even Peanuts in season bringing home, once again, how much of our medicine and food originates in the rainforests and tropical regions. To see a Papyrus reed, used for paper in ancient Egypt, is enlightening. I wonder if they every visualised the tons of paper that would be produced, and wasted, in the future. Incidentally what happened to the paperless world the computer was supposed to produce?

The Sub-tropical house was more bearable, filled with palms, including date palms, massive tree ferns and a Bird of Paradise plant. Glorious Orchids and climbing Bougainvillea were amongst many plants with intense colours. The scarlet flowers of the Australian Bottle Brush plant were a delight. I have a photo of one in a garden in Australia, sent to me by a friend, but it was good to see one live.

The Mediterranean house was filled with citrus trees and the many shrubs and plants from these regions included fuchsia, coleus and pelargoniums. The latter smell wonderful if bruised, giving off scents of rose, apple, lemon and peppermint to name a few. Introduced originally from South Africa in the 18th century there are now hundreds of varieties.

Both inside and outside, every type of garden imaginable was in evidence with plants from just about all parts of the world. Forget decking, gravel and BBQs, these were gardens for wildlife and they were there in abundance. We discussed the rocky desert garden, filled with cacti and succulents, wondering if some of the spiky ones might deter the rabbits from eating all the plants round my friend's caravan! In the Arid house plants like Carrion Flowers that smell of rotting flesh to attract Blow Flies, the Crown-of-Thorns and Burro's Tail caused much amusement.

Gardens from many periods in history were in evidence, with some formal and decorative, others functional for food and herbal remedies and with many fruit trees etc. The Herb Garden, too, was a riot of perfumes as we brushed past the better known culinary herbs intermixed with plants such as lavender and camomile - previously used to disguise household and human 'smells' - and others used in drinks such as bergamot, tansy and absinthe from Artemisia. After seeing such a display my small patch seemed totally inadequate.

A small wetland habitat hid Mallards with tiny ducklings, the smallest European Duck - the Green Winged Teal and many other delights. A small wildlife glade was filled with wild flowers and grasses. A fern garden and woodland walk were a relief from the hot sun and the grass garden with Bamboo and ferns was stunning. There is even a Panda Trail where children can learn about the different Bamboos and their uses. Is it any wonder that Panda habitat was disappearing in China with such useful plants providing houses, scaffolding, furniture, cooking utensils and equipment, sandals and even beer! For a while the Panda's need for Bamboo came second to human greed, but that is slowly changing. It seems that wherever I go I cannot get away from WWF, but it is good to know they play such a big part in the conservation of wild plants, wild animals and wild places.

A further connection with WWF cropped up as we left the Rhododendron Walk which was, by this time, sadly past its best. A fast growing tree, Calocedrus decurrens, the 'incense cedar' stood at the exit. This is the tree recommended by WWF for the best pencils. It is a beautiful soft wood, which sharpens beautifully, and is pleasant to hold. Many pencils are made with cheap tropical hard wood which is slow growing, further depleting the forests. Such cheap pencils also crack and split when sharpened. I have Cedar wood pencils to hand whenever I write. The leaves apparently smell of turpentine when crushed, though I didn't check it out.

There were many more areas that we didn't have time to absorb, such as the Japanese garden. However, sitting have lunch under the trees, it was a pleasure to see Chaffinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons, quite unperturbed by the humans wandering around and completely at home in such exotic surroundings. The incongruous sight (and sound) of a Peacock in the Rose Garden, strutting his stuff for the photographers rather than a mate, gave the visitors their money's worth with his display. It was a lovely end to a pleasant day.

I shall certainly be returning. It matters not whether you are a gardener, whether you want the Latin names or the romantic and weird common names, there are ideas aplenty for your own 'patch'. If you just want somewhere beautiful and peaceful to visit then I can recommend it. I would urge anyone who has a botanical garden near them to pay it a visit. They are a feast of plants, trees, shrubs and wildlife in beautiful settings. Certainly an 'oasis' in the middle of our city and something to be treasured.

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