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Portugal, Parks, Pollen (& Lions)

Estrella Park (Jardim da Estrela) in Portugal is magical. In central Lisbon it could easily be bypassed as it isn’t heavily advertised and is on the Western route taken by tram 28 rather than the more touristy Eastern ascending route to the cobbled hills of Alfama.
Stepping off the tram at the end of the line outside basilica Estrella the wrought iron entrances to the park opposite are camouflaged a little by the yellow miniature tram-shaped coffee hut. 

Estrella Park gates

I cross the road leaving the basilica area – crowded with funeral mourners and Funeral directors carrying large halos of fresh flowers from the four by four polished black hearse.

It is midday and on this beautiful sunny lunchtime I join the locals as they stroll through the green oasis of park with its’ palms, olive trees and magnificent banyans. 

Banyan tree

The banyan tree – the national tree of India – gives welcome shade. Apparently the Portugese adopted the word ‘banya’ from Gugerati when referring to the Hindu merchants who would gather to do business beneath it and so the tree gained its’ name. 

To Hindus the banyan is ‘the wish-fulfilling tree’. They are long-living and in mythology are seen as representing eternal life. 

It is strange to see their aerial roots hanging down from the branches. They will form trunks in the ground and can spread to 200 metres in diameter and 30 metres in height. 

The banyan features at the top right corner on the coat of arms of Indonesia,, symbolising the unity of Indonesia – one country with many far-flung roots.

Banyan tree on coat of armsof Indonesia

Strolling on I pass young and old – sitting, reading, dozing, chatting, sleeping. 

Lunchtime in Estrella Park

Sculptures blend happily into their surroundings.

Lisbon beauty
Taborda (actor)

And flying high above the pines are bright green Parakeets squawking and chasing each other above the human visitors below.

These tropical birds must have great views of the meandering paths, the glistening pond, intricate bandstand and outdoor cafes. 

At each view I stop, look and photograph – memory postcards to take back home.

My flight back is to London so I take advantage of a day there before returning to Cardiff. Icy wind and flakes of snow greet me in North London as I walk through Waterlow Park in Highgate. Estrella park was opened in 1873 and apparently featured a real live lion kept in a cage for over 70 years for the benefit of visitors. . Waterlow park – opened in 1889 leads to Highgate cemetery where sleeping above George Wombwell’s grave is Nero the lion who was in George’s travelling menagerie. The Wombwell family are still involved in the circus business.


Lions weren’t a feature In Victoria park in Cardiff (opened in 1897) but it did have a zoo and animals such as monkeys, a polar bear, antelope and exotic birds. Andy and Anne Bell’s website list all the animals known to have been kept in Victoria Zoo – Cardiff parks

Most people have heard of Billy the seal who lived in the park in from 1915-39 – Billy the seal

The nearest I got to wildlife in cold Waterlow park was two little moorhens who timidly tiptoed up to me in the hope of food. Even they looked a bit shivery.

On the tree trail around the park are some bee favourites such as indian bean, walnut, strawberry and Alder : Trees of Waterlow Park

In our sheltered garden our bees have been active over the winter months collecting some early pollen. 

I am one of the 20 per cent of people allergic to tree pollen and the Alder tree is amongst the early pollen producing trees that can cause an allergic reaction. Alder trees are monoecious – both male and female flowers appear on the same tree.
There are yellow male catkins and brown female cones on the Wales champion (2013) Italian alder in Roathmill park and on others along the bank at Roath recreation ground.

Alder cones & catkins
Alder in February
Alder, Roath recreation ground

More catkins on this beautiful silk tassel shrub in Roath Pleasure Gardens – 
Silk tassel shrub

To the bees, Pollen is considered to be ‘ bread’ – high in starch and a great carb/high energy food source for baby bees..
 My hay-fever-like symptoms (itchy eyes) usually occur anytime between now to May depending on how early Spring is and the amount of pollen released so I am on standby but have been taking a teaspoon of our spring honey every day trying to build up my immunity as local honey contains grains of pollen from the various plants – invaluable and why we have a waiting list..
Forager bees decide in advance if they are leaving the hive to collect nectar to make into honey or pollen to store up for development when they leave the hive. They return with the pollen on their legs like shopping bags. They give it to the housekeeper bees when they return home who put away in their cell-like cupboards. This is a frame of store honey and pollen in a frame from our hive. The yellows, greens and oranges are the pollen. The dark shiny cells are full of nectar/honey. The varied pollen colours reflect the different trees, shrubs and flowers they comes from.

Soon, the baby bees will emerge and the colony will develop. There are around 5000 bees in the hive at the moment. In Summer that will increase to 50,000 bees. Roll on Summer….

Pollen frame

Bee organised

It’s New year, around 8 degrees in the garden and some bees are flying. It is always a worry as anything lower than 12 is a bit cold for them so they can stiffen up and not get back home if they fly any distance. Also flying means using energy which means using their food stores – honey and pollen they have saved up to get them through Winter. Have they got enough to get them through until February? We may need to top them up with sugar fondant. We did so in November but need to keep an eye on it. Most of those venturing outside are taking advantage of a milder temperature to just pop out for a ‘cleansing’ flight – to go to the toilet – so as to not mess up the hive. Bees are very clean, tidy and health conscious. Housekeeping and ridding their home of any debris is a priority.

I suppose this goes for us also – when we have an airbnb booking! We now have a very well organised routine cleaning flight around the house. We have learned a few tips after our very first booking was a bit of a nightmare. 

Having finally taken the plunge and put our room availability up on the website at midnight one night two years ago we imagined we would have no bookings for at least a month which would allow us to do some leisurely finishing touches.

Not so. A text alert came through a couple of hours later – at 2am. The message read ‘ Hi, would love to stay ….. for three nights….from tonight. Will be arriving at midday – look forward to meeting you! .’

The Queen bee in our hive would have been proud of the way we worked madly to get the room and house ready for our first guests’ arrival. We tried not to look too exhausted and out of breath as we opened the front door when they arrived.

A huge plus for us and our guests are the surrounding parks. Today I walked through the pleasure gardens and did a circuit of the rose gardens in Roath Park. First stop was to admire the stunning sculptural contorted hazel opposite the conservatory.

In Spring the Bees will gather pollen from the catkins of the corkscrew hazel also officially known as ‘ Harry Lauder’s walking stick’ . Born in Edinburgh in 1870, Sir Harry Lauder was a music hall singer and comedian who performed Scottish themed songs in Scottish traditional costume, with a twisted hazel walking stick! 

(University of Glasgow Library)

Corkscrew Hazel in Winter, Roath Park
Black Walnut in Winter, Roath Pleasure Gardens
The walnut tree is a favourite of Terry Davies’. Bees like it too. You can tell the difference between the common walnut and the black walnut by its’ leaves – the single leaf on the end is usually missing on the end of the black walnut. I found this nut beneath the black walnut tree in Bute park on the Winter tree trail led by Malcolm and Terry in November.

Walnut in shell

 Apparently the nut is very difficult to get out of its’ shell but when you do it can be used as hair dye! – you boil them for 20 minutes or so – but the blackened water will stain everything it touches – it’ll never come out of clothes and will take ages to come off the skin. 

I use walnuts in my energy bites. I have adapted the recipe from Deliciously Ella – 

I doubled it today as wanted to distribute to family – grind 300g worth of nuts (i use walnuts and pecans) and stoned medjool dates and put in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of dessicated coconut, 6 teaspoons of orange juice ( freshly squeezed) 2 teaspoons of chia seeds and 8 tablespoons of cacao powder. Mix it all up.

Then blend the dried mix with 6 tablespoons of coconut oil. I do it bit by bit in a small processor, adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to 4 tablespoons of dried mix and whizzing it up. Transfer it all back into the bowl and roll up approx 100 little balls. Put into the fridge to harden. Either eat straight from the fridge or freeze them and pop in your mouth to melt slowly when you need a chocolatey burst of energy.


Walnuts and pecans
Medjool dates
Cacao powder
Fresh orange juice
Coconut oil
4 tablespoons dried mix whizzed with 1 tablespoon coconut oil
Energy balls

Shortest day over..

Creating space

Head space is something to be treasured and retirement offers you the chance to find it. It gives you permission to find pleasure in simple everyday life and absorb the natural living landscapes on your doorstep. .

Bee orchid, Howardian nature reserve

My real appreciation of the relevance of Nature as an everyday art form was in my visit to Tokyo a few years ago. Nature is considered vital to the wellbeing of the population crammed into every square inch of this high rise clean cut sophisticated city. The revered Tea ceremony, the neat gravel swept zen gardens and the beautiful cherished blossoms surrounding the many temples are honoured by the fast paced work-driven city dwellers.

‘Hanami’ – literally translated as ‘looking at flowers’ is the art of picnicing beneath the cherry blossoms or ‘sakura’in Spring.

The outstretched flower-laden cherry trees in Roath Mill and Waterloo gardens invite passers-by towards the grassy patch beneath them.

Waterloo Gardens
Roath Mill Gardens
The most common cherry in Japan is the ‘yoshino’ variety, known as the Japanese flowering cherry or Tokyo cherry. When at least five flowers have opened on this tree the official cherry blossom season is declared open n Japan.

Cardiff has an abundance of beautiful cherry trees – I was blown away by the stunning show in Cathays park in the civic centre this year – the cleverly planted red tulips vibrant against the pale pink background.
It is a place to sit and contemplate the words of the Japanese haiku poet named Basho



The group to which cherry trees belong is called the ‘prunus’ group and this belongs to the rose family. Almond, plum, peach and nectarines also belong to this group and are a favourite for bees – especially the pollen and nectar of the large cherry plum ( prunus cerasifera) – one of the first cherry trees to flower.
Prunus padus in Bute park -is also good for pollen and nectar. The Cardiff parks website lists all the champion cherry trees in the various parks –
Were it not for our Victorian ancestors and their belief in the importance of providing green open spaces for leisure we would probably have covered every inch with concrete. In these times of climate change and the realisation that our planet is changing we are perhaps prepared to now appreciate the importance of nature, the animals and insects – and the need to protect our wildlife such as bees. 

As well as bees and trees, another addition to my newly found freedom since leaving work is airbnb – 

There is a lot in common with renting out space whether in frames (for bees ) or rooms (for people.) Organisation and communication is key. I suppose the difference is that people can be guided and manipulated far more easily than bees can..

Being given enough ‘space’ is an absolute must in all cases. When left to their own devices bees will build horizontal combs in their nest site and the space between the combs is just enough for two bees to pass each other back to back in order to go about their day to day tasks – ‘the bee space’.Beekeepers provide manmade hives with ready made combs in the form of wax frames that slot into the hive in a way that honours the dimensions of the ‘bee space’ 

So in our terraced human hive in Cardiff my son wasn’t too perturbed when I rang him at university to let him know my planned use for his room space. ” Hi James, how are you?” I asked. “Fine” he said with his usual enthusiasm. I felt I had to launch in immediately – ” dad and I are going to decorate your room” I said with gusto followed by a suitable pause.. . “cool” he replied. “And” , I said, hurriedly, ” then we’re going to let it… You know, with Airbnb ” I felt a bit guilty. There was a pause and I held my breath before he replied “Go for it mum!” “It’s a good idea – and easy” . and I almost felt disappointed as his response underlined the fact that home to him is no longer permanent.
With the bees, permanency is not something they are used to either. They like to swarm…but for now they are tucked down in their hives in my garden. However with the mild winter they are already flying. This is not good as they are using their energy to fly – for nothing – as there is no pollen or nectar – they should be reserving for their emergence in Spring…

Cardiff’s Bute Park – National Tree Week, Nov 2016

What immediately comes to mind when you attempt to  distinguish Cardiff as a city? Maybe its’ Victorian shopping arcades, bay and barrage, resplendent castle (currently adorned  with a hideous Christmas tree)  hallowed rugby ground or renowned civic centre? The fact that it has the largest collection of trees – or Arboretum – in a municipal park in the UK is not at the forefront – yet it should be . Cardiff is a true tree mecca for trees and Bute park’s tree collection – although not comparable to the enormity of Westonbirt arboretum in England is certainly worth visiting for its superb variety. Why aren’t Cardiff Council tweeting it from the treetops?

The tower blocks of Nature that are our trees in Cardiff parks are in part thanks to the building work (or rather planting work) of two men who led the recent walk in Bute Park as part of National Tree Week founded in 1975 by the Tree Council – Malcolm Frazer and Terry Davies are welcoming and inspirational and keen to share their deep knowledge of trees and shrubs with anyone who is prepared to listen  – often indulging in a bit of playful banter that would make Laurel and Hardy proud.

As a complete tree novice  I am embarrassed to admit that I often won’t recognise the most common British trees which surround our daily travels on foot through our parks or by car along our city streets. (By the way – Terry informs us – Did you know that Cardiff has quite a reputation for experimenting with roadside tree planting? )

Terry And Malcolm hope that by explaining the importance of our trees they  will lay new foundations to them being treasured and replenished so their lifelong work will continue for the next generations. In these times of council budget cuts, traffic congestion, air pollution and fast-paced city life it is vital that we preserve our green spaces. The trees and parks offer us true mindfulness and deserve nurture and respect. I have  recently come across this Greek proverb  – A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in’ which makes you think. We all need to take responsibility and contribute to the continuation of planting for the future by supporting local ‘ friends’ groups such as the Friends of Bute Park – and  Roath Park – to name just a couple. The knowledge is there if you look for it and no more so than amongst the pages of the fantastic web resource continually enhanced and developed by Anne and Andy Bell –

Terry and Malcolm’s genuine enthusiasm is catching and once you have been on one of their walks you will want to join them every time.This Spring and Autumn their walks focused on Roath Park and the bright sunny Autumn brought a huge crowd. Narional Tree Week is a bit more wintry but the Autumn colours still remain and some of the UK and Welsh champions they have planted still look magnificent.

Terry (L) Malcolm (R)
They explain that a tree earns the title of ‘champion’ if it is taller or if the girth of its’ trunk is bigger than any other tree of its kind. We learn that in Bute park there are more than 2000 trees, 43 UK champions and 176 Welsh champions.

The journey begins as we cross the Millenium Bridge into the park. Either side, like two sentries is the the Swamp Cypress(Taxodium Distichum) on the right and the Caucasian Wingnut (Pterocarya) on the left.  The Wingnut is from the Walnut family but Terry explains that unlike the walnut, the wood of the Wingnut is too light for joinery. Tended by Terry, this particular one, although a good size, is less than 60 years old. He explains that its’ girth will continue to increase year on year but it has reached its’ maximum height.

The outstretched branches of the Caucasian Wingnut

Swamp Cypress – a tall deciduous conifer
We stop to look at the champion birch tree ‘Betula fetisowii’  planted in 1967 by Terry  – Malcolm explains that this area is known as the ‘Birch collection.’

Betula ‘fetisowii’ ( Betula = birch)
The self renewing white, copper and silvery bark of these almost unassuming ghostly birch trees glisten in the winter sunshine and offer good contrasting winter colour. We learn that the ‘River Birch’ bark has been used used in the past for making parchment and the papier mache-like waterproof lining of canoes.

The grouped plantings of trees are impressive in the park – there are apple trees with tiny red crab apples still in fruit, a line of curvy-trunked magnolias and an array beautifully coloured rowans.

Trees have much history and myths attached to them and we look up in awe at the shimmering golden Gingko with its perfect fan like leaves clinging on proudly. Famed for their wellbeing properties, Terry explains that the Gingko tree’s make-up is a complicated chemical one – so much so even insects tend to give its’ leaves a wide berth!

The bright yellow Gingko leaves of Autumn
Trees are grouped into classes and we learn that the Gingko trees are in a class of their own – they are ‘monotypic’. Their remains have been found in fossils 270 million years ago at the time of the dinosaurs and they were the only survivors of nature following the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
Originating in China, Gingko is revered in Asia and is planted around the temples of Japan. In Cardiff both male and female Gingkos thrive.  They attract foragers who scoop up their leaves to infuse and drink as tea or gather their fallen berries to use in stir fries or soups. It has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.  A Chinese lady I met in Roathmill gardens explained how this year has been particularly good for the Gingko nuts ( the berries) . She believed in their health enhancing properties but warned me to check on the internet before I consider adding them to my diet as consuming too many can poison you!

There is a fantastic range of trees from all around the world in Cardiff – and here in Bute Park we are shown the Chinese ‘handkerchief’ tree (latin – Davidia involucrata) I love its’ name which aptly describes the hanging papery leaves in Spring. It has yellow balls of fruit on it now. We are told that there are four of these trees in Bute Park and two in Roath Park. There is a memorial stone in front of this one and it reads – ‘given by American born Chinese to British born Chinese’ which reflects the diversity of Cardiff.

Handkerchief tree (right)
There are many varieties of beautiful Japanese Acers in the park and the Autumn bright orange of this Acer palmatum shishigara stands out –

Acer shishigara
We head on past a great Yew tree and Malcolm explains that in the past churches grew around Yews ( not the other way around!)as religious buildings often took over pagan sites. There are hundreds of ancient yew trees dating back at least 600 years across Britain, but the 60-foot-wide giant at St Cynog’s in Wales is believed to be the most ancient at 3000 years old. Terry remembers the hard work he undertook as an apprentice gardener in Insole Court trimming the Yew hedges.  They used to have to load up Yew trimmings as they would be collected by a local pharmaceutical company for ‘taxol’ a chemical founf in the Yew tree and used today in chemotherapy cancer treatment.

As we pass a variegated Holly  – an ilex aquifolium – Malcolm points out two holly tree ‘champions’ and explains that in pagan times holly (together with yew and ivy) represented  Life in the darkness of Winter. Holly wreaths would ward off evil spirits.

I am getting to recognise some of the Latin names – at least the first word of a tree’s name as it is the name of the group to which it belongs. A holly’s name always starts with the word ‘ilex’ There are so many varieties and Malcolm  points out lovely variegated leaves.

Variegated holly
Terry and Malcolm are experts in tree family history and, as a learner, one of the most surprising families to me – is the the ‘legumes’ family. (why French? ) The question is – how can trees be vegetables??!

More on that next time……