Hiking in Yakushima


I haven’t written about my trip to Japan for a while but when thinking about how I would address the ‘awkward’ photo meme I found myself remembering the hikes we made in the temperate rain forest on Yakushima island.

Yakushima island is 37 miles south of Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan, in the South China Sea.  The island is classed as sub-tropical and on the lower slopes and coast you see a wide range of sub-tropical plants growing such as Dicksonia, Hibiscus, and a range of fruit; in fact the island boasts being able to produce fruit every day of the year.


Whilst the sub-tropical plants are fascinating the island is renowned for its extensive mountainous forests that cover the majority of the island and are home to Japanese cedar trees (Yakusugi), some of which are thousands of years old.


Due to the high rain-fall,  it rains every day apparently, the forests are full of crystal clear mountain streams which run down the slopes creating spectacular waterfalls and rocky rapids.  This atmosphere has led to beautiful and ethereal mossy forests, so magical that they have inspired a Studio Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke .


The island’s unspoilt ecology is so important it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 and is a mecca for planthunters, particularly those with a weakness for ferns, of which there are apparently some 400 varieties.


There are trails throughout the forests suitable for a variety of abilities and for the keen it was easy to hire a guide to enable you to hike to the highest points.  We undertook a couple of hikes in the forest, which like the hike on Mt Daisen, are among some of my favourite memories of the trip.  You might think from seeing the photo further up of the board-walk that the routes were simple going but you would be mistaken, as were we.  The routes nearest the tourist car parks are generally simple and straightforward but suddenly, and really unexpectedly, you find yourself negotiating some rotting steps – which makes you a little wary.


Then you come to areas of tree roots which you have to pick your way through.  The ones above are nothing unusual but if you imagine these tripled and a drop to your right down to the rocky stream you can see that it gets a little more tricky, or awkward.


You find yourself going down, picking your way from one firm footing to another, waiting for others to catch up, catching hold of a mossy branch to steady yourself.


Then you find yourself climbing upwards, virtually on your hands and knees, holding on to steps which you feel might disintegrate at any moment and who knows how you will pull yourself over the rocks at the top.


Even when you do come across the remains of a path you can’t make speedy progress as you are having to negotiate slippery mossy rocks.


But this is the view you get once you get a reasonable height up the mountain – quite spectacular and on the way you have seen innumerable ferns, lichens, stewartias, arisaema.

The hikes might have been awkward and challenging but the sense of achievement and enjoyment was vast, just like the views.




Card – Weekly Photo Challenge


Week 2 of the Weekly Photo Challenge has indeed been very challenging and I haven’t enjoyed it as much as last week’s.  The theme is ‘Card’.  I have pondered and pondered and I was going to go to the local art shop to take a photo of all the coloured card but I have hurt my arm so am not driving and so no visit to the art shop.

Instead I have dug out my Memory Box and the photograph above is of a selection of cards from my family.  There are birthday cards, Christmas cards, Mothers Days cards.  I don’t keep the cards every year but every so often there is one that feels special or I am feeling particularly sentimental.  My favourites are the ones the boys have made me over the years often featuring flowers whether home-made or downloaded from the internet.  These days being busy men they don’t have time, or I am sure the inclination, to make cards but their bought cards are as special to me as I know they spend time choosing them. Regardless of whether they are made or bought they come with love and that is what really matters.

For more ‘Card’ photo blog posts visit Life and Thyme. Next week’s theme is ‘Awkward’ which actually might be more challenging than ‘Card’!



This year I have decided to try and participate in the weekly photo challenge set by Cathy, Sandra, Melissa and Jane – I came across it via Cathy’s blog.  I like the idea that they have published the list of weekly challenges at the start of the year so lots of time to ponder.

Anyway, this week’s theme is ‘Ceiling’ and my immediate reaction was to post the above photograph.  I take few pictures of interiors unless I am in some historic building and to be honest I am happier when I am outside.  I have developed a bit of a thing over the last year of taking photographs looking up through tree canopies, I love the light play especially through fresh spring or autumn leaves.  Of course this photograph is a winter’s scene but still the contrast of the bright blue sky last weekend and the trees’ silhouettes was enough to stop me on my walk to try and capture it.

As this blog is primarily a gardening blog I think a ceiling of trees is very apt.  Now to ponder next week’s theme of card!

Despite the Odds


There are some things that just seem to defy the laws of probability and my son’s wood store is one; it really should have completely collapsed some years ago.  It was built 6 or 7 years ago before he started his career as a cabinet maker in order to store the green wood that he is frequently gifted for wood turning; the green wood needs to dry out and so needs a good air supply but also to be kept out of the rain.  The wood-store, despite appearances, achieves this – just.  To be fair it was built for a different location on a steep slope and therefore had legs of different length to accommodate the angle; it was square and robust in its first iteration.  However, our old friend the badger was intent on coming under the fence behind the wood store and in the end it was easier to work around the badger than to try to thwart it.  So the wood store was relocated to a flat site and bricks used to even up the uprights and so far, for probably 5 years, it has resolutely remained upright – just.


Each year the uprights and roof lean just a little more and I am sure our cat, who uses it as a landing platform, assist with this. But we cannot rely on the wood store’s resilience for much longer so plans are afoot to relocate what wood is usable and then I get the space for planting. In the meantime careful consideration is being given to what items might be turned for the Etsy shop. For those concerned about the potential wildlife that might inhabit the wood store I am reassure you that we already have another small pile of large logs nearby which are being allowed to rot down and provide a habitat for wildlife.

This post was written in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge theme – Resilient.


Ornate: A WC to Behold


In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Ornate” I am sharing with you the indulgence that is Helen Dillon’s downstairs WC as I think it fits well with the definition of ornate as “breathtakingly extravagant”.  For the non-obsessive gardeners amongst my readers I should explain that Helen is a well-known garden writer who lives in the suburbs of Dublin.  I blogged about a visit to her garden back in July which I visited as part of a garden tour to Ireland.


Being an older property, I am guessing Georgian, the downstairs WC is shoe-horned in under the stairs so is a tiny space with a sloping ceiling which means that I had to take close-ups rather than take a photo of the glorious whole.  I should say that Helen was very keen for us all to visit and see this space, in fact we were almost ordered to do so and I know from friends who have visited with other groups that this was not peculiar to our group.  If you can imagine a small downstairs WC with the basic facilities of toilet and small sink and then every bit of the wall and ceiling is covered in shells all in intricate designs then you are half way to imagine this extraordinary creation.  I have to admit that I found it a little intimidating and a little frightening as some of those shells are quite large and sharp-looking!


The whole creation had been commissioned some years previously and what was even more extraordinary was that one of my fellow tourers recognised the artist who it turned out was a friend of hers – small world.


Treat: Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Iris unguicularis 'Walter Butt'
Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Today’s post is in response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Treat.”

I have been completely enthralled by the flowers of Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’, a real treat on a cool misty day.  This is the plant’s third year of flowering and last year the paltry two flowers didn’t start to appear until Boxing Day.  So I was completely stunned when something pale and paper like appeared towards the top of the steps at the weekend.  On investigating I discovered not one but three flowers and when I cleared away some of the fallen leaves there are clear signs that there are many flowers to follow – how thrilling.

As for Walter Butt who the plant is named after, he was the former owner of E Bertram Anderson’s house in Porlock.  Anderson (1885-1971), a distinguished plantsman,  worked as a chemist and bacteriologist before retiring to Porlock in Somerset. He was a founder member of the RHS Joint Rock Garden Plant Committee which first met in 1936. Other members included E A Bowles and Walter Ingerswen both with huge reputations in the alpine and bulb worlds and reading the article about Anderson in the RHS ‘The Plantsman’ (Dec 2010) it is clear that Anderson was one of those plantsmen who seemed to have been part of a cycle of eminent horticulturists all sharing information and plants. Anderson is well known for  his raising of the beautiful Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ (Katherine Hodgkin was the wife of his friend Elliot Hodgkin). He was also responsible for raising Galanthus ‘John Gray’ and Galanthus ‘Mighty Atomas well as collaborating with Helen Ballard in the raising of new hellebores and numerous other plants.

Going back to my iris, Anderson considered it as ‘noteworthy because of its size, very pale lavender flowers, almost white in the sun, and its strong perfume’ a description I completely agree with – indeed it is a real treat.


Careful – Weekly Photo Challenge

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This week’s  Daily Post’s  photo challenge theme is  “Careful.”  

‘Careful’ makes me think of small things.  We are careful with babies, small children, delicate ornaments for fear of injuring them.  “But what am I careful with I wondered” and more importantly I added “that I can illustrate with a photo”. Fiddly things come to mind, things I have to focus on – so sowing seeds and embroidery.  “Easy” I thought “I’ll take a photo of my current embroidery project”.

Foolish me, it’s not easy to take a photo of yourself sewing; not unless you have someone else to take the photo or you can set the camera up on a stand.  How do you focus the camera on your own hand when you have to hold the camera?  Impossible.  So I have ended up with a photograph of my embroidery without my hand doing careful sewing.  It is a careful occupation and the photograph was taken carefully – so I have doubly completed the challenge!


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Here is my response to WordPress’ weekly photo challenge: “(Extra)ordinary.”

I thought for a while about what I might have seen this year that was extraordinary. I was reminded of my trip back in May when I took my Mum to Rome.  She had a desire to see the Trevi Foundation whilst I was determined we would go to the Pantheon and see its amazing brick-built dome; the largest unsupported dome in the world.  My mother was rather blank about this place I kept mentioning. Luckily it wasn’t that far from the Trevi Fountain and with lots of eateries in the small roads around it an ideal lunch destination.

I have been to the Pantheon once before; some 9 years ago the day after my 40th birthday.  I was in Rome on a mad work trip which lasted little more than 24 hours.  Our hosts were so determined that I should see the sights that we did a tour of Rome at midnight which was quite magical but the Pantheon was the one place we couldn’t look inside at that time of night.

I am so glad that I insisted we went to the Pantheon.  It was the highlight of the trip for me.  I found the vastness of the interior awesome especially when you think it was built around 125 AD in the reign of Hadrian, he of the long wall. The opening at the top of the roof is 8.8m in diameter that’s 28.87 ft ; the total diameter is 43.2m (141.73ft). Added to this is its religious significance. I’m not a religious person but whatever your faith or lack of faith you cannot help but be moved by the religious imagery throughout the building.

The Pantheon – a truly extraordinary place.