An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson — iSustainability Project

I love this post by Carole – about human purpose and consciousness and what guides our decision making …. I hope you do too.


Sometimes it’s good to pause, and consider what makes us think the way we do. I’ve recently been re-reading the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) which I first read in 2002. I remember that it had a significant impact on me at the time, and re-reading it […]

via An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson — iSustainability Project

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Hope Wood

I began this blog to write about my experiments with perennial vegetables and polycultures.  A lot of vegetable biomass and words have been generated over the past seven years on that topic and will no doubt continue well into the future.  However there is news afoot and another topic to write about because the day before we went on our holiday to New Zealand my partner and I became the very proud owners of a woodland.

I call it (her) Hope Wood.  She is in Shropshire in a quiet valley, surrounded by beautiful hills with an open aspect to the south.  She is accessible from both of our bases – in Shrewsbury and our borderland home – making it easy to visit and also to stay over if we want to.

This is a dream I never expected to come to fruition and I am so excited about it!  The opportunity came along and we took it eagerly without too much thought or forward planning, just instinctively knowing that this was something we would love to do.  Accordingly there are no specific plans for how we will use the wood although it is likely to involve visiting as often as we can to spend time and get to know the place and the surrounding countryside rather than travelling further afield to visit other beauty spots.  We will be sharing our joy with friends and family, and when the fine weather comes there will be gatherings and lots of cooking on an open fire.  The wood is also very definitely for grandchildren to run about in.  It is for them to get muddy and to briefly forget their ipads and phones, to climb trees and make dens and eat slightly singed food with relish.

The pictures below were taken on our first visit in October from one spot as I turned round and snapped what was in front of me.  The final picture is looking over the open boundary when we visited just after Christmas.  The wood was just on the snowline and looked and felt enchanting.

Hope Wood will be for dreaming in and dreaming of and I am now going to dream on!


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Reviewing 2017

My previous reviews of the year just gone have been more factual and measured than this one will be.  However much of my focus through 2017 was not so much what was growing in the garden or how much produce I was getting but on how I was interacting with the garden and whether or not that interaction boiled down to some basic principles that would translate to other situations.

The answer to that question is yes and I have a folder full of notes and lots of scrap paper and notebooks covered in more notes confirming it!  I am in the process of writing up what I have discovered from watching myself interacting with the garden – how I watch  it, what I notice, how I make decisions to do something or to refrain from doing it.

But of course I have also very much enjoyed actually being out in the garden and both harvesting and eating the produce as well as enjoying the flowers and the bees and birds and other creatures that come visiting.

There has been kale virtually all year round, more than we can eat and the neighbours have been enjoying it too.

variegated Daubenton’s kale

Daubenton’s kale

Many of the fruit trees and bushes bore their treasures for the first time this year and I harvested – jostaberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, cherries, wild strawberries, apples, plums and one very precious and delicious mirabelle.

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There have been onions a plenty from the first months of the year to its’ finale – three cornered leeks, few flowered leeks, perennial leeks, chives, Welsh onions, tree onions, garlic.  I have been able to save bulbils and offsets to make more plants for next year.

perennial leek bulbils swelling nicely


tree onions amongst marjoram

And this year there will be even more of these lovely perennial plants to come through all the wondrous seasons in their turn.

April cowslips

salsify, nasturtiums, love in a mist, onions (of some kind) having a ball in the July sunshine


Fennel and Taunton Deane kale on a misty November morning

But right now this is what I am looking forward to quite soon:

snowdrops in a local churchyard on a sparkling February day



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Singapore – A Garden City

Whenever I have heard other people speak about Singapore they have generally had a stopover to break up a long journey and despite only a brief visit they have said what a lovely place it is.  Now I know why.  It is clean, well organised, has lots of interesting things to do and there are trees and plants everywhere!

I had not realised before that Singapore is a garden city and has been for over fifty years now.  Everywhere I go I am always noticing spare places, unkempt corners, unused spaces that to me seem to be crying out for something green to be planted on them.  In Singapore I couldn’t see any spare or unloved space at all – everywhere that was not in use for roads, paving or buildings was green.  The roads are lined with graceful trees – as shown below, I don’t know the species.  Most of these trees have other plants such as ferns growing in between the boughs.

Fort Canning Road, by back entrance to Singapore National Museum – hence the sculptures!

The garden city includes an emphasis on community growing and there are over 1000 community gardens.

The pavements are lined with plants, often on two sides so you walk along surrounded by shrubs, trees and flowering plants.  Many of the plants looked to my British eyes like massive pot plants!  Despite being so pleased to see the street planting I didn’t take any photos of it, but this link takes you to a search which demonstrates what I mean.

The city is making an effort to increase biodiversity in the city by planting habitat for birds and insects.  We walked past this entrance to a butterfly area on our way from Orchard Road (the main shoppping and hotel area) walking to the Botanic Gardens.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find the actual way into the area!

Nassim Green butterfly trail

Much of the expertise for the garden city is rooted in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  This 82 hectare garden was originally founded in 1859 and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2015.

This scene is on the publicity leaflets, but I don’t know the significance of it!

It is huge and has many lovely gardens within the one site.  Unfortunately as it was so very hot my partner and I were wilting after just a couple of hours and we only saw a fraction of what was there.

Orchids in Singapore Botanic Garden

New Zealand is home to 4.8 million people living on 103,360 square miles, Singapore is home to 5.6 million people on just 278 square miles! For comparison the UK is 93,600 square miles with 63 million inhabitants.  I will leave any calculations of population density to you – but clearly Singapore is incredibly densely populated which makes its green environment even more of a wonder.


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New Zealand (II) wild flowers and gnarly trees

I always keep an eye out for wild flowers when I travel in the UK and particularly if I go  away on holiday.  It was interesting to see lots of familiar flower (daisies, dandelions, docks, scarlet pimpernel and others) in New Zealand.  I have no idea if they are natives or if we Europeans transported them there in relatively recent times.  Of course there were also lots of shrubs, herbaceous plants and flowers that I was totally unfamiliar with.

DSCN7194 edge at Aotea beach

tree lupin and wild carrot at Aotea beach

In many of the wild places I saw lots of tree lupin and wild carrot.

nasturtium and convolvulus growing on a cliff

In some places there were cliffs of nasturtiums as pictured here with convolvulus growing through it – this was vertical so the flowers don’t show so well!

New Zealand has many wonderful trees with fabulous shapes and gorgeous flowers and many venerable, old, old trees with long memories and immense gnarly trunks.  Some trees were familiar species but different to our natives in the UK.  There was this black beech, and there was a New Zealand ash and a berry bearing elder, both different to our respective ash and elder.

DSCN7112 black beech tongariro trout centre

black beech

Trees grew right up to and virtually on the beach.

DSCN7184 p ... tree at picnic beach

tree on the beach near Kawhia

There were beautiful native trees in Waipahihi Botanic Gardens – a community garden  near Lake Taupo.


Waipahihi Botanic Garden

And gnarly old specimens spreading their canopies everywhere.

tree growing by Lake Taupo

But I have never, ever been so entranced by trees as I was when we went for a walk along the shore at the last place we stayed – Kawhia (pronounced Karfia).


Kawhia harbour was one of the first places settled by the Maori people after their arrival from Polynesia in approximately AD 1350.  Legend has it that their canoe was tied to one of these pohutukawa trees.

DSCN7201 tree kawhia

Pohutukawa tree at Kawhia

They had branches everywhere, but the flowers were something else again – absolutely magnificent!

DSCN7205 trees in bloom at kawhia

pohutukawa trees in bloom, Kawhia

Maori circle at Kawhia

This stone circle stands beneath these beautiful and beguiling trees – signifying its importance to the people of the place.


Maori carving at Kawhia harbour

I loved this magnificent maori carving – ‘the carved custodian of conceptual knowledge’.


reverse side

And lastly, as I left Kawhia and New Zealand, I stopped to read this plaque  which stands beside the carving and tells us what the people of the place say of themselves.

which means ……  (you need to know that ‘pakeha’ means the New Zealanders of European descent as far as I can tell) …..

and there cannot be anything to add to that.

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New Zealand

We kept mainly off the well used tourist route in New Zealand and stayed in self catering accommodation.  In each place our hosts also lived on site and we want to say another thank you to Rose and Richard, Lyndon and Bill and to Di and Kit for their warm kiwi hospitality and super accommodation.  They each gave us home grown food as well – lettuce, rocket, kale, strawberries, lemons and oranges fresh out of the gardens.

Right from the first stop with Rose in Auckland I noticed that New Zealand gardens behave very differently to those in the UK.  I had gone on holiday armed only with the notion that NZ is a maritime climate and I thought that meant it would be much more similar than it is.  For a start NZ is much warmer in the north than anywhere here, hence the citrus trees in the gardens.  As I looked round Rose’s lovely garden I could see so many flowers out all at once that come in stages over the spring and summer here.

DSCN6997 Rose's garden

Rose’s garden in Auckland

Of course there were the plants I cannot grow such as limes and oranges and many I cannot name, both succulents and shrubs.   However I do grow foxgloves, aquilegia, roses and pentsemons but they would not be all out together in Wales, along with honeysuckle, cornflowers and sweet williams.  This was a garden in full flow.  For comparison November down under is late spring, not even summer but to me it felt much more like mid summer.


It made me start thinking more about the individuality of every garden, every patch of ground.  Each little place is unique and needs to be known and understood by someone who belongs to it.  I thought this garden was a delightful welcome to our holiday and is clearly loved and cherished.

Rose’s vegetable garden

We only stayed a short while in Auckland to get a bit acclimatised to the different time zone and then headed off to Acacia Bay on the shores of Lake Taupo.  As you can see we had the most amazing, sparkling, sunny weather – everywhere we went local people told us this was a heatwave!

DSCN7018 view over Lake Taupo from apartment

Lake Taupo from our apartment

I was mesmerised by two things in particular in NZ – the volcanic activity and the trees. I had not appreciated that it was such a volcanic landscape.  Indeed there was Mangere Mountain just a short walk from Rose’s home and at Lake Taupo we discovered the lake had been created about 26,500 years with the Oruanui eruption – the world’s most recent super eruption.  Today’s lake of 238 square miles and 186 metres deep was created by this incredible event.

caldera of Mangere Mountain volcano

Nor had I reckoned on the landscape being currently as volcanically active as it is.  There was a geothermal power generating station  near Lake Taupo and a number of local sites to visit with thermal pools and geysers and so forth.  There are some particularly well known places such as Rotorua, but we had opted for a quieter life and were absolutely delighted to find steaming ground and bubbling mud pools at ‘Craters of the Moon’ close to Acacia Bay.


entrance to ‘Craters of the Moon’ geothermal area

DSCN7037 craters of the moon

Sulphurous vapours emanating from the ground, ‘Craters of the Moon’

Further south along the lake shore close to where Mount Tongariro rises above the plain is the very small settlement of Tokaanu.  There we were able to get very close to the hot pools and they were awe inspiring.

Thermal pool at Tokaanu

mud boiling!


trees growing in the hot and steamy ground

I was amazed that any plants could grow so close to the boiling water and bubbling mud – I have no idea what they are, but they are surely tough!

DSCN7082 tokaanuThe minerals dissolved in the water precipitate out into solid mats of colour floating in or just under the water.  I guess the yellow is something sulphurous, but don’t know about the white.

DSCN7084 tokaanu

DSCN7089 tokaanu

DSCN7091You could almost think you were on another planet!

DSCN7096 tokaanu


I have more to write about the wonderful trees and the wild plants we saw, but that will be in the next post after Christmas!  Until then I wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable time.


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My partner and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to New Zealand, travelling via Singapore.  By way of a change in this winter lull from the garden I thought I would write a few posts about some of the wonderful plants, places and people we encountered on our trip.

We had a stop over of several days in Singapore on the way there and again on the way back which gave us time to explore.  One of the big tourist attractions in Singapore are the Gardens By the Bay.

As well as beautiful outside landscaping and planting the main attractions here are two massive glasshouses – one is a recreation of a cloud forest and the other is called the Flower Dome.  This houses plants from every continent of the world, a bit like the Eden project in Cornwall.  I preferred the cloud forest as it was truly spectacular and really helped me envisage what the true habitat might feel like.

Gardens by the Bay, Cloud Forest Dome


The cloud forest dome is a very warm and damp environment that has water cascading down the walls and it is intensively misted every two hours as well.

water cascade in cloud forest dome

vertically planted wall

There are some exotic and colourful plantings –


– the main purpose of which is for taking selfies judging by the number of people they attracted.


with a touch of the exotic amongst the trees

Among the many fascinating and wonderful plants were these pitcher plants.  Just before going away I had watched a BBC programme with actress Emilia Fox telling the story of Marianne North a Victorian lady botanist and explorer with a passion for these plants so it was great to see some real ones.

pitcher plants

A lift takes you up to the top level, with a view over the bay area of the city.

Singapore skyline

And then you walk down this walkway to the ground level.  I found that hard as I hate heights and exposed places and in part the way down was blocked by more people with their phones taking selfies as I tried to scurry quickly down.

this gives an indication of the height of the building

Although there were impressive trees and plants in there at first I was a bit disappointed with the other dome (in part because of the very large and tacky Father Christmas at the entrance).  The Australian section had some marvellous plants though….

From the Australasian zone I think!

However I was unexpectedly entranced by the plants from arid zones.



As it happens I had just been reading about the remarkable ceibo tree in a new book The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell.

Ceibo tree

And I always remember the baobab tree because Robinson Crusoe spent his first night ashore in one – in the TV programme I watched as a child (though I never read the book so this may be wrong)!

baobab tree

Both ceibo and baobab are in the malvaceae family – the same as the hollyhocks and mallows in my garden – isn’t nature great!

And then outside were the structures that look like trees – they are not merely decorative, but are there to generate solar power.  Behind them is the Marina Bay Hotel – an improbable structure of three towers topped with a boat like construction across all three.  Up on top is an observation deck and infinity pool, it all sounds very impressive but I am glad I was staying somewhere closer to the ground.


solar generating ‘trees’ with Marina Bay Hotel behind



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