So, how do you describe
a summer of dreams come true? Did I mention a range of meetings and shows
in the previous 'Rootloose'? Well. I went to them and did them. I spent
ten weeks working around Great Britain, living much of the time in pubs,
meeting people with the accent that I share (well, some of them) and drinking
some good beer. It was a homecoming after too many years away, and a time
of pure muscle-tired, brain-eased joy. There may never be another like
Most of the time
I was at Living Rainforest near Newbury in Berkshire. The director, Karl
Hansen, is leading the organisation in the vital area of research into
the compatibility of man's needs with sustaining natural environments.
My contact was as a gardener in the two large greenhouse ranges that are
home to a rainforest environment and one that simulates lowland moist
tropical conditions. The plants are the backdrop for butterflies and free-ranging
birds and lizards, and for breeding colonies of two endangered species
of monkeys. The place is alive every day with school trips and adult groups,
and it is altogether a stimulating taste of an exotic world, that encourages
local schools to develop a more telling curriculum that addresses man's
place as a part of natural systems.
For the botanist, there is an outstanding collection of members of the
aroid family grown to specimen size and in beautiful condition, and, moreover,
used in a way that exactly enhances the feeling of penetrating a hot humid
One of the
main features in the larger of the two houses is a pool which, last
summer had a spectacular plant of Victoria amazonica. Scarcely
visible in the foreground of the second picture is part of a clever
display of leaf-cutter ants who carry plant parts cut from material
placed on rocks in the water back to their nest along a system of
vines. There it is a substrate for a fungus cultured by the ants
who in turn make use of the fungus as food. The size of the leaf
or flower part carried by each ant amazes visitors. Entomologist
E.O. Wilson has compared their strength and speed to a human running
four-minute miles for 30 miles while carrying a 500 pound pack.
You may enjoy reading more about Living Rainforest at http://www.livingrainforest.org/pages/5.html
Life in the village of Hampstead Norreys was well removed from my
normal reality - three buses a day in and out, and I didn't have
a car most of the time. I walked to work and back, a mile each way,
up a hill and down, and walked the village and country around it
in the evenings.
very calming and relaxing, and the real joy was having a room
in the pub and seeing at least the surface of village life.
Really nice, and welcoming, people. (Not to forget the good
food and good beer.)
were a chance to rent a car and go off to see the world.
The White Hart, Hampstead Norreys
part of working was a few weeks at the Butterfly Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I was an extra pair of hands for an extremely well organized group,
so it was odd-jobbery and fitting in where I could. Plenty of gardening
and a chance to see behind the scenes in a world of butterfly import/export
and breeding. Stratford itself is beautiful, attuned to tourists,
of course, but having a job there let me kid myself that I belonged
and could see it like a local.
world during time off meant the Cotswold's villages, time in Central
Wales, the Hampton Court Flower Show, loads of gardens and a great
deal of walking in places that I knew from growing up, and new favourites
to return to in future years of 'summers at home'.
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