Monday, May 28, 2018

A Chelsea wake-up call

I wonder, did you visit The Chelsea Flower Show last week?
Perhaps, like me, you avidly enjoyed the daily reports on BBC2.

Yes, it was a delight . . . it's always a delight.  But what particularly struck me this year were two factors that were constantly referred to in the commentary.

Firstly, the benefit of plants and gardening for mental health; and, secondly, the urgent need for oxygen-producing plants to reduce pollution in our over-crowded cities.  Two factors linked by their emphasis on the pressing mental and physical needs of humanity.

If you remember, in our last letter we were pondering on man's total dependence on the natural world.   The vital  nature of this dependence would seem to  be coming to the forefront of current thinking.

Not only did the gardens and flower displays at Chelsea go out of their way to feed both body and spirit, but there were many 'living walls' to bring this essential message home. 

These magnificent 'living walls' clearly demonstrated how even city dwellers can find a way to nurture plants, and thereby connect with the living world.

What's more, people worldwide are acting on this knowledge.
Look at this picture and see what the eminent Italian architect, Stefano Boeri, has created in Milan.

It's his belief that, as seventy-five per cent of carbon-dioxide is produced by cities, and forests absorb between thirty to thirty-five per cent, we have no option but to increase the number of city trees.

The residents of this tower block are constantly nourished by nearly a thousand trees and over twenty thousand plants.

And this isn't all, in addition to other environmental projects in Italy, Stefano Boeri has similar ones under way in Paris, the Netherlands and in Poland.

Here, in the UK, the Somerset city of Bath is intent on offering beneficial plants to its residents and visitors.
The city's phone boxes have become redundant as a means of verbal communication, instead they're being used to spread visual messages of health and beauty around the city.

Just look at this picture . . . can't you feel it doing you good?

But let's give the last word to The Chelsea Flower Show.
As I'm sure you noticed, the lawn of one of the most popular Gold Medal gardens was richly planted with a profusion of weeds.

A weed, we were told, is only a plant growing where you don't want it to grow . . . seen as a wild flower, it can be truly beautiful.

Could there be a moral there somewhere?

Monday, May 7, 2018

No song in May

"The cuckoo comes in April.
She sings her song in May.
In the middle of June she changes her tune,
In July she flies away."

Are those lines familiar to you?
They may well be, but I'm sure that many of today's children have never heard of them.  The reason?  Sad to say, we seem to have said farewell to the cuckoo.

When did you last hear the cuckoo's song?
A year ago . . . three years . . . five years . . . ?
And, tell me, when did you last see a hedgehog . . . or a thrush . . . or a sparrow?

If you live in London, as I do, hedgehogs, thrushes and sparrows will be no more than a distant memory.  You don't notice when such creatures are slipping out of your life, it's only after they've been absent for quite a while that you realise with sorrow what you've lost.
In fact, such has been the sharp decline in hedgehogs nationwide that, as you probably know, this has been named 'Hedgehog Awareness Week'.

But let's look at the broader picture.

Why does it matter that we're in the middle of the sixth mass extinction?  It matters because, one day, that extinction could well extend to us.  True, there's no obvious reason why human beings should need cuckoos for their survival.  But just think about it for a moment.  The entire natural world is a story of balance, of integration, of interdependence.

Ultimately, for our survival, we need air, water and food.  And, however clever and independent we think we are, however skilled in science, technology, and the production of artificial intelligence, humanity is totally reliant on the natural world to provide the essentials for life.
Moreover, the trees, plants and insects involved in providing our essential requirements, will only provide them whilst remaining part of a balanced, multi-layered environment.

We are not above or outside the natural world, we are an integral part of its beauty and complexity.

Nor is it just a question of the wildlife becoming extinct.  Have you noticed how the planet is responding in other ways to our thoughtless and destructive imprint?

This week alone, tornadoes have swept across central America;  a series of earthquakes have given rise to a large volcanic eruption in Hawaii prompting further earthquakes;  hundreds have been displaced in Kenya's floods;  an extensive sink-hole has appeared in New Zealand;  and unprecedented dust storms have caused havoc in northern India.  On a happier note, here, in the UK. we've enjoyed the hottest May Bank Holiday on record.
And all that has happened in just one week.

But, who knows, even at this late stage there could still be time for us to weave a supportive pattern in the environmental tapestry . . . perhaps even encouraging the cuckoo to return.
How sad were it to be remembered as no more than the mechanical inhabitant of a clock.

Click here to remind yourself of the cuckoo's evocative song, and ponder as you do so on these sobering facts . . . our Earth is finite, and there's no such thing as Planet B.