At the National Gallery of Denmark

Dear Readers, we decided to start the day off with a visit to the Torvehallerne Food Market, just around the corner from where we’re staying. Grød is a porridge café, and why we don’t have such things in the UK I have no idea. We had a huge bowl of porridge with apples, almonds and caramel sauce, and it’s nearly 4 p.m. and I’m still not hungry. No wonder the Vikings were so successful, I bet they started off the day with porridge. You can get all day porridge with a variety of toppings, but as lunchtime approaches they start to do other grain-based bowls such as tomato risotto, along with dahl and chicken congee. Just my kind of food! I’m noticing that a lot of restaurants also do their own soft drinks – there was elderflower and strawberry on offer yesterday, along with lemon and thyme and gooseberry and rhubarb.

The food market is in two halls, one selling porridge and chocolates and salads and bread, and the other more meat and fish, with the fruit, veg and flowers in the middle. I was especially impressed with the range of wild mushrooms.

And then it was on to the SMK or Statens Museum for Kunst, otherwise known as the National Gallery of Denmark. After all the weapons of war yesterday it felt good to take in some art, and there’s plenty here to look at. We decided to stick with the Danish art, which we’re less familiar with, although there are 20 Matisses too. The Museum itself is a very fine, large, airy building with a modern wing tacked on at the back to house, appropriately enough, twentieth-century Danish art.

 

 

The bridge between the old and new buildings

There were a few artists that I definitely wanted to check out. One was Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 – 1916). After several days of drizzle, I was immediately taken by his use of shades of grey, but there’s something very enigmatic about his paintings – his characters always seem lost in thought, and there’s a feeling, captured also in Hopper’s paintings, that something has just happened, or is about to happen. See what you think.

On the other hand, lest you think all the Danes paint are muted interiors, we have Carl Bloch (1834 – 1890). He clearly loved colour, and he painted 23 pictures for the chapel at Frederiksborg Palace between 1865 and 1879. The palace was originally home to King Christian IV in the seventeenth century and is the largest Renaissance palace in Scandinavia. The paintings have been used repeatedly by the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), both in reproduction and as inspiration for films and artworks. A couple of them are shown below.

Christ Healing the Sick (Carl Bloch)

The Sermon on the Mount (Carl Bloch)

But what caught my eye was this painting – ‘In a Roman Osteria’ from 1866. Just look at the way that all the diners are looking at us, and then there’s the cat (a bonus animal is always a good thing in my view). There were even flies and wasps on the table, to satisfy my entomological leanings. You could write a fine short story about this painting, I’m sure.

Carl Bloch (1866) – In A Roman Osteria

Upstairs in the new wing there were some more recent artists. Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was a German/Danish painter, one of the first Expressionists. Ironically, although his work was considered ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis (he was banned from painting after 1941), he was himself a Nazi sympathiser and anti-semite. Recent exhibitions have highlighted this fact, and the description of this painting ‘Last Supper’ includes reference to Nolde’s politics.

On a more pleasant note, how about this? This is by William Scharff (1886-1959), one of the leading proponents of cubism in Denmark, though what attracted me to this painting was the spring-like colours, and the little critter in the corner. The picture is called ‘Three Boys Looking at a Toad’. I especially like the toad.

So, all in all I had a great time at the SMK and learned a lot of things about Danish art that I hadn’t appreciated before. There is something about the light here, and the long, dark winters and brief, bright summers that seems to filter through into much of the art, though the work of someone like Nolde also exposes a darker side.

And to finish up, here’s a photo of the Hauser Plads, just round the corner from us, with its mix of medieval architecture and new buildings, quite a few bicycles and an enormous flower stall. And for once, it’s dry!

 

Copenhagen – Bombs and Books

Dear Readers, it’s been a miserable, wet old day here in Copenhagen, but if there’s one thing that cheers up my husband, it’s a War Museum, and the Danish capital has a very fine one. The building was built in around 1593 and used to be an arsenal. It has one of the finest collections of weapons in the world, so my husband was in his element. Me, not so much, but then he did spend several hours in the Botanic Gardens at the weekend, so it’s fair dos.

Denmark’s more recent history is largely as a neutral/pacifist nation, following the Battle of Dybbøl in 1848 against Prussia over Schleswig Holstein. The Danes were hopelessly outnumbered, and the casualties were shocking to those at home. However, the debate against intervention in foreign wars goes on – there was a very interesting exhibition about Denmark’s involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan, and I noticed a group of school children in very philosophical debate about the nature of war, and whether or when it was appropriate to take up arms.

The museum as a whole looks at the history of war in Denmark on land and at sea, from about 1500 onwards. It also has a display of artifacts from other countries. All in all, it was pretty overwhelming.

These fine cannons were stolen from Venice – they’re probably more decorative than useful.

This display shows a car that was carrying an Iraqi tribal leader when it was attacked by an ISIS drone. The driver and passenger were both injured, but survived.

You can get some idea of the sheer size of the arsenal from the photo below. It’s also on two floors.

Ground Floor

First Floor

And when I looked at this suit of armour, it occurred to me a) that they must have been made to measure b) what on earth happened if you put on or lost weight, and c) how claustrophobic and hot wearing one must have been (though I note that there are convenient gaps under the armpits to let the steam out.

Well, this is a truly amazing museum if you’re interested in all things martial, but I must admit that after a couple of hours I needed a sit down. Fortunately, the museum is full of chairs that you can actually sit in, and there were also some hammocks in the naval part of the museum, so if I’d been more confident in my ability to get into one, that may well have been a way to spend the afternoon. However, by now we were both hungry so we went back outside into the rain to find some sustenance. En route we passed a group of very small children and their teacher, who were climbing all over this Leopard I tank (used by the Danes and the Turks in combat, my husband tells me). I can’t see this being allowed in the Imperial War Museum, but then the Danes are much more relaxed about their children than we seem to be.

Onwards! We headed just across the road to the Black Diamond, aka the Danish National Library to have a spot of lunch. At 1 o’clock a most peculiar bonging noise went off. This happens every day, according to a lovely man who stopped us and talked at some length in Danish. Do we look Danish, I wonder? This keeps happening. Maybe it’s because we’re both tall. We’re definitely not blond.

The ‘Black Diamond’, otherwise known as the Danish National Library

There are so many spaces to sit and study here, not only in the new part of the building, but in the old library to which it’s attached. I half wished that I’d lumped my laptop with me so that I could sit in one of the old reading rooms and knock up a blogpost. I’m a Reader at the British Library, but it can be so hard to find a spot a work, plus people can be so noisy! Here, all was serene.

Some of the workspace, looking back towards the new building

The view into the old library

The view towards the waterfront

And then it was time to head home for a rest. It’s funny how much the grief and stress of the past few weeks/months/years has taken it out of me, but at least I’m listening to myself now. Time was, I would want to see everything that there was to see in a place, but I’ve finally realised that if I just pile one experience on top of another, I end up not savouring anything. it takes me a while to process and think about things, and I enjoy them much more if I allow myself the time to do that.

Oculus in the old library

 

At the Danish Architecture Centre

Dear Readers, over the years I have found that Danish people have a dry sense of humour that I find very engaging, and this morning was no exception. We were just about to sit down for coffee and croissants (£20 thank you very much) when we saw this advert in letters several feet tall. Netto is the budget supermarket in these parts, and there are two within a few minutes’ walk of where we are staying. We are right in the heart of the student area, and how they manage is anybody’s guess.

Anyway, we ended up at this coffee shop. It was packed to the gunnels with Danish goddesses and handsome young men stocking up on caffeine before retreating to their offices. And us. Though we ended up sitting outside.

The croissant was the best I’ve had in years. Just look at that lamination.

And how about this little beauty? This was a twist on the traditional Danish cardamom buns, with poppyseeds, a lemon glaze and that zesty tang of cardamom. How we shared it without rancour I shall never know.

Anyhow, lest you think that all we do in Denmark is drink coffee and eat baked goods, we were on our way to BLOX, a controversial building that houses the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), some workspace, a café, a restaurant and lots of things for children to do. If you go to the exhibition space upstairs, you can also get downstairs in a hurry by taking a twisty twirly slide in a tube.

The Danish Architecture Centre

Inside, there were two exhibitions. One was called ‘A Space Saga’ – a pod designed for people living on another planet was tested out in Greenland, where two ‘astronauts’ lived in the habitat for 60 days. It was a rather intriguing origami-like structure, which can increase its size by 750% when it unfolds. However, it still felt extremely claustrophobic to me. You’d have to get on very well with your co-workers I imagine. It feels to me as if the biggest challenges for long-term space travel will be the physical and psychological problems of the people who go. Still, it was very interesting. You can read a bit more about it here.

The second exhibition was about women in architecture, both those who worked in the past, and those who are coming up now. Only 25% of architecture practice partners are women in Denmark, and this in a country with decent childcare and equality measures. Even when I was here last, twenty-five years ago, I remember being impressed because the Finance Director of the company that I worked at, a man, was taking a few days off because his child was starting school, and parents could accompany their children to help them ease into the new environment. There was no expectation that his wife should do it instead, and this was in addition to his normal leave allowance (which was 40 days). Denmark has higher taxation than we do, but better social care in almost every aspect.

Anyhow. At the end there were interviews with some women architects. They seemed happy to work collaboratively and to share ideas, and they put thought into how to make spaces feel safe and welcoming for everybody. One woman pointed out how important lighting was, especially at night, and how, while bleak spaces might feel hypermasculine and edgy, they did nothing to encourage people to feel at home. I often feel this in new developments – impressed by their scale, but as if I don’t belong there, which is not surprising as they weren’t designed with me in mind. And if I feel nervous, how about all the other people who don’t find spaces easy to navigate? There was plenty of food for thought.

You can read all about it, and see a short film from the exhibition, here.

And then it was off for a walk home via the edge of the Christianborg palace complex, which is the home to the Danish parliament.

The view along the Christianborg canal

We passed the Royal Danish Library, otherwise known as The Black Diamond. It’s an extension to the existing building, and is one of the largest libraries in the world. Copenhagen is full of bookshops, used and new, and it’s clearly a favourite occupation during those long damp winter nights.

And, me being me, my eye was taken by the abundance of berries on this snowberry. It certainly puts the plants in my local cemetery to shame.

Then we wander around the back of the Stock Exchange, where we saw the spire with the four dragons yesterday. Today I was very taken by the reliefs on the back of the building. There were a variety of muscley bearded and moustachioed chaps, a few wan maidens, and one very fierce-looking matriarch.

Then we passed in front of parliament…

….admired the seagull sitting on the head of this copper-clad warrior (who turns out to be Bishop Absalon, founder of Copenhagen)….

and then admired the three storks on this fountain, topped by a cheeky pigeon. Since 1950, newly-graduated midwives dance around the fountain, a piece of news which cheered me up enormously. No obvious midwives when I was there, however.

And finally, I was intrigued by this building, with its decoration of a snake, a lizard (a water dragon by the look of it), a scorpion and a squid. How could I resist?  These days it’s a store selling Bang and Olufsen sound systems, and in a previous incarnation it sold Louis Vuitton handbags, but originally it was the home of the Svane Apoteck pharmacy, one of the first pharmacies in Copenhagen, dating back to 1849. The building, which dates back to 1934, is a listed monument, but why those particular animals were chosen I have no idea.

Well, I’m sure that the creatures have some symbolic value, but they are also beautifully designed and presented. As in most cities, there is much to see above one’s usual eyeline. It’s well worth looking up.

A Walk to Nyhavn and the Changes on the Waterfront

Statue of Viggo Horup in Rosenborg Castle Gardens by J F Willumsen

Dear Readers, after we left the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen yesterday, I was still eager for some green space and so we walked through the edge of the Rosenborg Palace gardens. I was much taken by this sculpture of Viggo Hørup (1841 – 1902), agitator, liberal and all-round good egg. He was anti-nationalist, and fought for social equality, including campaigning for the gardens to be open to everyone. The relief at the bottom of the statue apparently shows Denmark before and after slavery. I rather liked it.

And then it’s on down to Nyhavn, the old waterfront and these days the scene of hen and stag party bar-crawls. Goodness knows how many people end up in the water. It is very pretty, very crowded, and we passed by on the other side.

At the end of Nyhavn there’s a new bridge, so I popped up to have a look. Goodness!

On the left is the Royal Danish Playhouse, finished in 2008 and, as you can see, currently showing ‘West Side Story’. Most of it (about 40%) floats above the water.

On the other side of the canal, in the distance, is the new Opera House. This has been the subject of some controversy. The architect, Henning Larsen, called it “without comparison the most owner-infected [bygherreinficerede] ‘worst-case’ in my fifty years as an independent architect – squeezed between the Phantom of the Opera himself (of which more below), shipping magnates, and lawyers.” He was deeply unhappy about how he and his building had been treated, as you can see.

The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ was the shipping magnate Arnold Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller. He does seem to have had a lot of input into the design of the building (which ended up costing about $370m). In the first place, the building was meant to have been glazed, but Maersk  apparently decided that it should be clad with a metal grid. Larsen also wanted a particular treatment for the rear wall of the foyer, that would have resembled old violins. Instead, it was treated using traditional staining techniques, and the jury is out on whether this is effective or not. Suffice it to say that the locals in Copenhagen call this part of the building ‘the pumpkin’.  Furthermore, Maersk financed the building, but it was tax deductible, and it seems that the Danish government was obliged to buy it back. The building was completed in 2000, so it’s something else that would have been a hole in the ground when I was last in Copenhagen.

The foyer of the opera house, showing ‘The Pumpkin’.

Some things remain the same though – there are some magnificent old warehouses, such as this one, that houses the Museum of the North Atlantic and which, for those prepared to take out a mortgage, also houses Noma, once regarded as The Best Restaurant in the World. Just so you know what you’re getting into, the Game and Forest Season (for which booking opened on 22nd August and closed the same day) has a menu for 3,500 DKK (approximately £420). You can add on wine for a further 1,800 DKK (£216) or, if you don’t want to drink alcohol, a juice pairing will cost you 1,200 DKK (£144).  Too rich for my taste by far.

Anyway, we wander along the waterfront and come across this rather intriguing building, which seems to have no obvious way in. It reminds me rather of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, and no wonder – it was built in 1937 and used to be the old Customs House and ferry terminal. Alas, it’s actually the Copenhagen branch of Soho House (a private members’ club for ‘creatives’) so we won’t be dining here either. It would cost you about £1,000 a year to be a member here, and most of the truly creative people that I know are struggling to make ends meet with their art. Viggo Hørup, where are you when we need you?

But what is this? This extraordinary warehouse is now home to the State’s Workshops for Art – this is space for artists who are working on particularly large paintings, sculptures etc. The original building dates to 1882, though somehow an extra floor was added in 1920.

Gammel Dok

And finally we head for home, but not before passing one of my favourite spires in Copenhagen. This I do remember from my previous visits, and for good reason. Known as the Børsen, the building is the old Danish Stock Exchange, and it is made up of the tails of four dragons, intertwined, and reaching a height of almost 60 metres. The spire dates back to 1625. At the top are three crowns representing the old Kalmar Union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It was a very distinctive landmark, and still is.

 

At the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen

Dear Readers, congratulations to all of you who guessed that we were off to Copenhagen in Denmark for a few days! I visited the city some twenty-five years ago for work, and was most intrigued to see how much it has changed in the meantime. But first, some coffee. The Danes take their coffee very seriously, and if you find yourself in Norreport, close to the Rosenborg Castle and the Botanical Gardens, I can very much recommend this spot.

We sat outside next to two young women having a most animated discussion in Danish, interspersed with phrases in perfect American English, and the occasional universal swearword. How I admire people who can speak more than one language! That will surely be my next challenge.

You have probably heard that Copenhagen is a city of cyclists, and it absolutely is. MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) are relatively rare – you see people of all ages, some with their children in little carts, some with their dogs in baskets, one lady peddling a disabled relative who was sitting comfortably in a chair at the front of the bike. The cyclists are largely separated from pedestrians (so there’s little need to jump out of the way), and pretty much everybody obeys the stop signs at intersections, so it’s all extremely civilised.

Copenhagen also has a very good public transport network, which we will be investigating later in the week.

Anyhow, as you might expect from Bugwoman our first port of call was not one of the splendid art museums, or indeed the Little Mermaid, but the Botanical Gardens. It is a lovely time of year to visit, and although we’re expecting rain on and off for the whole of our stay, it was dry this morning.

The Colchicums are in bloom. I love these bulbs! They have a florid, blousy quality that I admire, as they put forth their enormous flowers and then collapse with exhaustion.

I rather liked this shrub, which has leaves that go pink from the tips. No doubt some clever person will tell me what it is. Could it possibly be an Actinidia? Feel free to put me right…

The lake is very lovely, and very full of koi carp, some of them very beefy indeed. One fish tentatively nibbled at the feet of a passing mallard and was roundly pecked on the head for its trouble. I fear for very new ducklings and coot/moorhen chicks though – these fish are easily big enough to gobble one up as an hors d’oeuvre. Let’s hope that the parents are wise to the ways of carp.

It was sad to see that the horse chestnuts are plagued with leaf miners just as the ones in the UK are, though the damage seems less substantial. I’m not sure if Denmark has also had drought conditions this year.

I was a bit surprised to see stands of Equisetum (mare’s tail) beside one of the smaller ponds – in my experience, once this plant gets a foothold it’s very invasive, though it does have a kind of primeval spikey charm. No doubt the gardeners know what they’re doing.

We decided to save the palm house for a rainy day, and very splendid it looks too – it dates back to 1874 and is surrounded by a complex of other smaller greenhouses. The heat and shelter will be most welcome later in the week if the forecast is to be believed.

And then, I spot a streak of copper crossing the lawn, and cannot contain myself.

“Red squirrel!” I shout, and a number of other folk from the UK turn round to look.

How lovely to see an animal that is so rare in the Uk these days! The squirrel looked around and then crossed the lawn in a series of perfect bounds, before disappearing into the colchicums. Let’s hope that he doesn’t like the bulbs as much as the grey squirrels in my garden like the crocus bulbs.

There is a group of sequoias and other conifers just next to the Alpine garden. It always cheers me to see these trees growing outside of the Pacific Northwest, where fire and logging have impacted them severely. I wonder if there are more sequoias outside of North America than in it?

Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)

The Alpine garden was a joy – there were lots of plants still in flower in spite of the lateness of the season, and paths wandered this way and that.

I rather liked the Carthusian pink (Dianthus carthusianorum) below – it reminded me of a catchfly, and indeed a hoverfly was making the most of the nectar.

And how about this delicate bellflower (Campanula cochleariifolia), also known as fairy’s thimble? It’s native to the Pyrenees, and I love its pale colour and the way that it seems to be hunkered down amongst the rocks.

Well, this was a very fine start to the holiday, and next up is a walk down towards Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront and scene of many a drunken carry-on (not by me, I hasten to add). I am intrigued to see how the harbour front has changed in twenty-five years. I think I am in for something of a surprise.

Another Clue….

Dear Readers, yesterday I mentioned that we’ll be setting off on an adventure during the next few days, and wondered if you could guess where we’re off to. As another clue, this is the national bird of the country that we’re visiting, and the insect below is the national butterfly. I rather like the idea of a national butterfly. Guesses in the comments please! All will be revealed tomorrow….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Can You Guess?

Dear Readers, in a few days we will be going off on an adventure. I wonder if you can guess where we’re going? Answers in the comments please! It’s our first ‘proper’ break since 2020, so we’re both excited and a little daunted.

More to follow!

 

 

Five Years On

Mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1957. Not sure who that other woman is 🙂

Dear Readers, it was five years ago that my Mum and Dad had their 60th Wedding Anniversary party in Dorset. They got a card from the Queen too, as everyone who manages 60 years married did. There was so much then that we didn’t know. Five years later, all the people in the photo above are dead.

Dad giving his 60th Wedding Anniversary speech, while Mum offers encouragement….

Dad got very confused when he was giving his speech of thanks. At the time, he blamed it on his glasses, but thinking back it was clear that he was deteriorating – five years earlier he would have extemporised, but this time he was completely lost. I can see the concern on Mum’s face, looking at this photo. A year later, he would be diagnosed with vascular dementia. Fifteen months after this, both Mum and Dad would be in a nursing home. On 18th December 2018, Mum died. Dad followed her on 31st March 2020.

Mum, Dad, my brother John and I at the cake cutting….

But I still remember the joy of that day. Mum said it was the best evening of her life. Both of my parents were surrounded by people that they loved, and who loved them. They were together, and so they would be until the last moment of Mum’s life. Mum was always worried that Dad wouldn’t cope without her, but because he was already in the nursing home, which was familiar to him, and because his memory was failing, he seemed content. It is strange the way that things sometimes work out.

Looking back now, a few things come to mind. One is that it is important to celebrate things, to make the effort, to make memories. Often it can feel as if it isn’t worth the bother to go that extra mile, but it is. It would have been so easy to let that 60th Anniversary be just another meal out at the local pub, but I am so happy that it was more than that. We need reasons to be together, to rejoice in other people’s happiness and successes. So often, as people get older, we only meet at funerals.

Cakes from Mum and Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary Party in 2017. Note the freesias!

Something else is that we waste so much time worrying about things that don’t happen. We can plan and prepare for every eventuality, and there’s something very comforting about feeling that we’re in control. So often we aren’t, as the Covid pandemic has shown. I think that many of us are in a state of high anxiety all the time these days, and sometimes we can’t help it. I occasionally reach a state of equanimity which is very refreshing for me, where I plan for things in the full gut-knowledge that something else entirely might actually occur. It doesn’t feel like resignation, it feels like freedom. I don’t know how I got here, but here I sometimes am.

And finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that we mustn’t put off saying and doing the things that are really important to us, especially with regard to the people that we love. When my lovely Auntie Rosemary was dying, I wrote to her to tell her all the reasons that she mattered to me, but actually I’d been corresponding with her for months, so I’d said most of it already. I am operating on the basis of no regrets these days as far as I’m humanly able – no arguments unsettled, no love unexpressed. If I think of something that I want to do for someone, I try to do it rather than putting it off. We do not have forever, and neither do the people that we care about. If there is one lesson that the past five years have taught me, it is that the Buddha was right – we are children playing in a burning building. Life can be so beautiful, but it is also so short.

Dad enjoying his 60th Wedding Anniversary speech, with Mum preparing to give encouragement if necessary….

A Fleabane Poem

Canadian Fleabane

Dear Readers, I realised when I’d finished yesterday’s post that poor old Fleabane hadn’t been celebrated in a poem. And so I found this, which I loved. It’s by Rin Ishigaki, who was born in 1920 and worked as a bank clerk, giving her the name of ‘the bank clerk poet’. I’m not quite sure why it’s affected me so much, but there’s that sense of time passing, of great upheavals and change, and those two last lines made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. See what you think.

The poem is a bit of a cheek because Philadelphia Fleabane is actually much closer to Mexican Fleabane than to our plant, but I’m going to move swiftly on.

PLUCKING FLOWERS by Rin Ishigaki

I plucked wildflowers at Marunouchi in Tokyo.
At the end of the 1920’s
I was in my mid-teens.

On my way to work
To the Bank
The hem of my kimono-trousers flapping
Just a dash up the embankment beside the footpath
Before my eyes an open field.
Clover
Dandelions
Philadelphia fleabane
Wildflowers too poor
To decorate my desk at work.

Its been about half a century since then
Days came when the buildings blazed in the flames of war,
Around the postwar Tokyo Station
Just like a graph of the economic boom
Tall skyscrapers bloomed.

I retired at the mandatory retirement age,
I don’t suppose any firms are left which take
Girls straight from primary school.
Even women are questioned about their market value
And ranked accordingly.
Women bloom in competition
But the day has finally come when they cannot possibly be wildflowers.

Farewell Marunouchi
Now no open fields anywhere
The thin green stem that I once squeezed
Was my own neck.
© Translation: 2005, Leith Morton

Wednesday Weed – Canadian Fleabane Revisited

Fleabane (probably Canadian) with ragwort at Woolwich Dockyard

Dear Readers, Canadian Fleabane (and its close relatives Bilbao’s Fleabane and Guernsey Fleabane) are such weedy weeds that it’s easy to pass them by without so much as a second glance. Members of the Asteraceae (Daisy) family, they have tiny flowers and a whole lot of fluffy seeds and are annuals of such fecundity that once you have the plant on a patch of rough ground or, as here, along a riverside, you are probably going to have it forever. Experiments outlined in my book ‘Alien Plants’ by Clive Stace and Michael J. Crawley suggest that grazing with rabbits seems to be a way to keep the Fleabane (Conyza) genus in check, but there’s a grave lack of small furry grazing animals in Woolwich, clearly.

Fleabanes tend to grow alongside buddleia, as I noticed from the Woolwich walk.

Buddleia!

The name given to the community of plants established by buddleia and fleabane is the Buddleia-Conyza scrub community, and you can see it popping up in many urban sunny sites, frequently on builder’s rubble or tarmac – we have a great example of this just up the road from here in East Finchley on the site of an old petrol station which has been landbanked by developers for years, but you can also find great examples on railway embankments. Fleabanes tend to be the first colonisers, along with mugwort, American willowherb, bristly oxtongue and evening primrose, but soon the buddleia and the sycamore start to take over, with the fleabane tending to die out where it’s overshadowed by the buddleia. This feels like such a very urban habitat that I’m glad that it has its own name and now has people studying it. Colonisation can start within a year of a site being left derelict, and the habitat can persist for up to twenty years. It will be interesting to see how long the example of the Buddleia-Conyza complex in East Finchley lasts before someone decides to actually build there.

And when I looked back at the last time that I wrote about Canadian Fleabane, I mentioned that there was a patch at the side of my house. When I looked early this week, there was still some there, probably descended from the seeds that were dropped by the parent plant back in 2014. You have to admire the plant’s sheer persistence.

So, this is from my original post back in 2014.

A thicket of Canadian Fleabane has erupted in the alley at the side of our house, and I am delighted. I know this is not the reaction that most people would have, but then, this week is the thirteenth anniversary of my marriage to my Torontonian husband, so a little reminder of the country that he came from is very welcome. Plus, although this plant comes from so far away, it has put down firm roots in London, and is more commonly seen in the Capital than in any other city, so in that respect it is a little like me.

Canadian Fleabane 004 BPThere are lots of plants that resemble Canadian Fleabane, but none have such a mass of tiny flowers, which at this time of year are rapidly turning into fluffy seeds. The plant was apparently brought to the UK as seeds in the innards of a stuffed bird, back in the sixteenth century (unlike my husband who arrived into Heathrow in a big metal bird twenty-odd years ago).

Canadian Fleabane 003 BPIn many ways, Canadian Fleabane is a ‘proper’ weed – it’s an annual which produces thousands of seeds, and which can grow in the most unpromising of spots, as its appearance in my dark, soil-less side alley proves. But, as with so many plants, it has a myriad of helpful uses. A tea made from the plant is said to be helpful for arthritis and for diarrhoea, and it has also been used to combat hay-fever. Like so many fleabanes, it is also said to be good for deterring insect parasites.

Some wind-blown Canadian Fleabane

Some wind-blown Canadian Fleabane

I can’t help but admire a plant that can erupt from a crack a hairs-width wide and grow to four feet high in a single season.  This afternoon, the little seeds were flying away in the breezy weather, taking their chances on a new land far from where they started. And, thinking of my soulmate who flourished so far from his native soil, I find myself wishing them luck.