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Posts tagged ‘Nature’

Flower burst: Red Amaryllis

Buying fresh flowers is always a pleasure. You watch them open, you breathe deep of their sweet, nuanced perfume, and transform a corner of your home with their splendid colour. But alas, within days, their majesty is at an end, and their delicate structure becomes a vision of faded beauty. Happily, the process of flower growth and nurture can often last longer, and one of my favourite annual rituals is to buy a potted amaryllis bulb and, over the first weeks of the year, watch it grow.

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I am always fascinated by the slow progress of the amaryllis flower, as a green shoot emerges from the innocuous brown bulb, and seems to escalate higher and higher until you wonder if it will ever stop. But then suddenly, as though exhausted by the effort of climbing some 40 or even 50 centimetres into the air, the flower shifts its focus to the lateral explosion of its colourful petal-rich head.

This year, I watched on in delight as I saw a very long green stalk open up into the most resplendent array of blood-rich red as my amaryllis burst open into four magnificent floral crowns. Almost swaying in surprise at the bounty of its own offerings, my amaryllis is top heavy with its heady creation, but somehow remains standing for many days of enjoyment. And just as I see the petals turn slowly decrepit with age, a new flower shoot bursts up from the side in reserve.

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And so for days ahead, another floral array awaits me, as the newest manifestation of my amaryllis steps into the spotlight.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

One morning in Zürich

Last weekend was joyfully sunny, despite being spent in London during the midsts of its Winter. Sitting on Clapham Common, enjoying coffee on consecutive days reminded me of another winter weekend we enjoyed as 2017 turned into 2018; when in the pristine clean air and surrounded by the magnificence of tall snowy mountains and glistening mirrored lakes, we enjoyed a winter’s day which exhibited all the joyful qualities of Spring: one morning in Zürich.

Zürich enchanted us right from the outset. Expecting something of a super-urbanised banking city metropolis, we were surprised to find a town which was so quaint that it could be the setting of a nursery rhyme, with its gothic spires, cobbled streets and oversized clocks. Yet perhaps the best feature of Zürich is its location: nudging the shore of the Northern tip of Lake Zürich, and surrounded by pristine mountain scenery, it is a place to behold, whatever the season.

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That morning in Zürich showed off the city at its best. With the sun high in the blue sky, all thoughts of winter were swept away as locals took to the gentile path which borders the lake and takes those perambulating on a broad sweep along shallow waters and past progressively green parks and residential enclaves. At the end of the path, and with the city far behind, the view of an uninterrupted mountainous Elysium was ripe to behold, and with the sun beating down on the path and the glassy lake beyond, we stripped off winter layers and breathed deep of the purity of nature that only Switzerland can bring.

That day still lives strong in our mind as we look forward to Spring. Gradually, as each day passes, the optimistic summertime draws near. But occasionally days like that one remind that there is hope even mid-Winter. That’s the transformative power of sunshine. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Post 1001 | Your favourite ever Daily Norm article

Continuing the week’s celebrations of reaching 1000 posts on The Daily Norm, I wanted to revisit the post which, statistically, was the most popular of my original posts. When I say “original”, I am referring to posts containing my own photography – for the posts when I reviewed art exhibitions scored the most visits of them all. But with over 20,000 visits, this post, which originally went out on 5 July 2012, is my post popular ever collection of photos. And happily, some 6 years on, we are still very much enjoying this little corner of urban garden paradise…

First posted 5 July 2012: My Urban Balcony Garden

When you live in a city, like I do, here in the big smoke of London, every inch of greenery becomes important. When I travelled down to Glyndebourne the other day, surrounded by all of those lush green hills, and the conspicuous silence interrupted only by the occasional sheep cry, it made me realise just how lucky rural dwellers are to be surrounded by that constant beauty and tranquility. Yet it is only human nature not to appreciate what we have when we’ve got it. For all I know, the residents of those sussex country manners probably envy we Londoners who have the whole cultural world right on our doorstep.

I do like to count my blessings however, and I actually think writing a blog, which encourages one to reflect more on one’s life, making the most of occasions, events and opportunities for the sake of sharing and recollecting interesting and unique snapshots of life, makes us bloggers appreciate life with a renewed vitality and a very sharp focus. And one thing that I have always appreciated, albeit perhaps more so as my time living in London grows longer and my hours of work increase, is the green space around me.

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I may only have a balcony to exhaust my green fingers, but that balcony, which runs along the front of my entire flat, is my pride and joy. There is much to be said for the urban balcony. Not only does it help to make urban life more bearable, more colourful, and more sensorily enriched, but also helps to give nature a bit of a kickstart – there have, for example, been reports of huge rises in the numbers of urban dwellers keeping beehives, so many in fact that there are now a surplus of bees for the numbers of suitably pollinating flowers available across the city. I don’t have bees, but what I have created on my balcony is my own piece of tropical paradise. I’ve surrounded my small table and chairs and my all important sun lounger with my own little slice of Spain. There I have a large brugmansia (whose flowers are spectacular bell-shaped blooms which smell glorious at night – they’re not out yet but rest assured, I will share on The Daily Norm once they are), a passion flower, an olive tree, grasses and plenty of geraniums. I’ve also encouraged honeysuckle to grow up the wall, and this year, for the first time, introduced some strawberries into the mix.

Because my urban balcony garden is a natural extension of my lounge which has a very contemporary red, black and white colour scheme, I have attempted to continue that out onto the balcony, with modern galvanised steel planters, and plenty of vivid red geraniums, which mark a wonderful contrast against the building’s crisp white washed walls and the black and grey grasses I have planted intermittently amidst blood-red cala lillies and those red-burst strawberries.

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Whether you’re a city-dweller or otherwise, I strongly recommend you import some plants into your life – even if it’s only a window box hanging out of the window. The introduction of plants always creates a new geometric mix into any design scheme, bringing curves and floral bursts into often boring square buildings, which are enhanced further as day turns into night, and interesting plant-shaped shadows dance across the surfaces of your home. Whats more, as a plant grows and changes with the seasons, your home too will adapt to the altering cycle of the year, and as the plants rise and fall, you will find a great sense of achievement in tracking their story and progress in your home (just remember to water them, occasionally!)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A Windsor Weekend, Part IV: The Park

The true might and scale of Windsor Castle is best appreciated at a distance. When approaching by train, the station at Windsor and Eton Riverside gives the appearance of a toy town construction as it sits in the shadow of the mighty castle silhouette on the skyline behind it. From the river, the great Castle pervades all watery reflections as a mirror image in the Thames doubles its impact. But best of all is the Castle viewed from the vast grounds which surround it, as the sprawling regal complex stands at the apex of a 2.65 mile perfectly straight road which cuts through Windsor Great Park: a true demonstration of its domination over the land.

Windsor Great Park is great indeed, humongous in fact. Had we wanted to explore each of its 2020 hectares we would have been exhausted indeed. And it would almost certainly take weeks to do it all. For these great hunting grounds of monarchs past are today the site of sprawling forests, vast landscaped gardens and agricultural land, and contain some of the most beautiful unspoilt countryside within the outer reaches of London.

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We restricted ourselves to the closet section of the park to Windsor town centre, namely the Long Walk and the land around it. Stretching from the Castle at one end to a grand imperial sculpture of George III upon a stallion at the other, the path is at the centre of a stunning tree and lawn lined avenue which seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. When setting off, the equine statue appears to be at the end of the world as it appears, tiny like a speck of dust on the far horizon. But as you proceed upon the Long Walk, admiring a progressively more bucolic scene unfold on either side, the true pomp and  enormity of the sculpture becomes clearer as behind, Windsor Castle shrinks in size.

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It was a hard slog, but we eventually reached George III, with the final efforts of our ascent to the base of the statue aptly rewarded by the most dazzling view of Windsor Castle far off in the distance. But turning the other way, we saw an idyllic landscape of rolling hills, woods and fields unfurl into the distance, and unable to resist a little embrace of this less landscaped scene, we delved into the forests and fields, snacking upon beautifully sweet forest berries as we did so. Here, only the unfortunate sound of Heathrow aircraft interrupted us. Otherwise the world was utterly still, and we found ourselves wonderfully at ease in this most heavenly of natural surroundings – the playground of the many Kings and Queens who have enjoyed the very rich landscapes which surround their home at Windsor.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A Windsor Weekend, Part III: The River

We are not the most social pair, my partner and I. When it comes to the choice between a crowded room or an empty field, we will always go for the latter, finding beauty in the tranquility of nature, rather than the bustle of a hyperactive grouping. Perhaps it is the after-effect of city life – I remember sometimes feeling the opposite living in Mallorca, when the loneliness of the stark mountain scenery had us wishing for civilisation and the safety that comes with being one of a crowd.

Given that it was the bank holiday weekend, Windsor was pretty packed, and when it came to that same choice between a crowded high street and the contemplative remoteness of nature, we embraced the latter to the strongest possible degree, even when it took real efforts to do so.

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Chief amongst those endeavours was our determination to rise early and enjoy the town, and more particular the banks of the River Thames, without the interruption of crowds. And so by 7:30am, we were already to be found down by the mirrored surface of the water with only swans for company. And what a lot of swans there were. At one point, when we wandered under a bridge onto a tiny peninsular literally loaded with swans preening themselves, sleeping and feeding, we empathised perfectly with how Edgar Degas must have felt, when he walked into the dressing room of the Opera Garnier in Paris, with countless ballerinas preening themselves in preparation for their stint on stage.

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The River Thames was very much the perfect swan lake for us that golden early morning, and with very little else to disturb the silence, we enjoyed a walk of utmost tranquility before the imposing silhouette of Windsor Castle. Gradually, as the hours ticked on, more people appeared: jogging, walking the dog, and getting ready for the day. But having had our fill of nature enjoyed in the quiet peace of daybreak, we were once again ready to face those burgeoning Windsor weekend crowds.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 5: Majorelle Blue

This post commences with a warning: You are about to be bombarded by blue. An intense, electric, ultramarine blue which defies the senses and energises the mind. And when the more natural colours of citrus and verdant green are set against it, they too become alive, as though infected by the sonic grove to which this blue vibrates. The result is a panoply of vivid colour, a palette so strong that these photos should not be viewed with a hangover. But rather, with a clear head, get ready to revel in this most glorious colour of Marrakech, a shade which has defined the idea of the avant-garde garden paradise, ever since it was first used in the Moroccan garden of French artist, Jacques Majorelle and later the home of one Yves Saint Laurent. This is a post dedicated to the colour so synonymous with its creator and his lavish Marrakech garden that it was named after him: Majorelle Blue.

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The Majorelle Garden is one of Marrakech’s most popular sites. No doubt the legacy of YSL –  who recovered the abandoned masterpiece of fellow ex-patriot Majorelle in the 1980s and returned it to its former glory – is a prime attraction. But beyond the YSL gloss, which adds understandable glamour to this secluded, leafy space, this is a garden which packs a punch from its entrance. The blue, a mix of cobalt and ultramarine, is so vivid that it cuts through the plants whose dense foliage attempts to cover it. In the garden, every possible type of prickly cactus and tubular bamboo fights to fill the light afforded by the dappled space, and yet they are a mere chorus to the protagonism of the blue. Yes, it allows the green of the plants to sing like a true maestro, but it does so complacently, knowing itself to be the true star.

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While the walls of a waterlily pond (like Monet’s garden on acid) and an adjoining Arabic waterway are given over to this blue, it is the house itself, with its cubic form and intermittent splashes of vivid yellow, which really give the blue its stage, from where its monologue can be radiated throughout a lush garden punctuated with yet more splashes of prominent blue, yellow and orange. Pots and urns do not escape the paint treatment, so that the whole garden becomes unified in colour. It’s as though no plant nor path has been allowed to escape the treatment of a designer intent on creating a cohesive catwalk show. This is a garden choreographed to sing out, to impress. And it does so with aplomb.

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Predictably the garden is always awash with visitors. Their backpacks and chattering inject the colour harmony with unwanted clashing tones and a strident cackling which punctuates the calm which ought to dominate this cultural space. For this reason my photographic dedication to the Majorelle Garden concentrates more on the details than the overall space. But in those details you can see the effect of colour and contrast, as that magnificent blue comes face to face with its colour wheel opposites. The result is a true spectacle of colour, rarely dared to be seen in so naturally abundant a green and thriving garden space.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 2: Garden Green

There is something altogether very earthy, sandy even about Marrakech. Known as The Daughter of the Desert, it is very evident that the city is only a few hours away from the Sahara. The very rose tint of its original mud built walls sing of the harmony of deep, mineral rich desert tones from which the city arose. And yet a view across its skyline also betrays the odd peppering of green, where palm trees sway amongst houses and the prayer towers of mosques are embellished with shiny green roof tiles. And of course the Arabic countries are no strangers to the beauty of green spaces, since it was them who were the engineering geniuses behind the stunning gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, and most of the Southern European irrigation systems which followed. The Medina of Marrakech is nevertheless more about its dusty maze-like streets and multi-coloured souks than gardens, but through one small gate in the heart of the souk is the opening onto a true marvel of a garden, so hidden away that you could easily miss it.

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Appropriately named, Le Jardin Secret, the origins of this lavish garden hark back to the second half of the sixteenth century, when the Saadian Sultan Moulay ‘Abd-Allah commenced upon the urbanization of what is now the Mouassine district of Marrakech. Having decided to build his palace and gardens on this exact spot, the turbulence of history resulted in a series of handovers from one ruler and influential man to another until eventually, in 1912, the property then passed into the possession of the Fez of al-Hajj Muhammad Loukrissi, chamberlain of Sultan Moulay ‘Abd-al-Hafiz. There he lived until his death in 1934 when tragically the palace and garden fell into disrepair. Fast forward three quarters of a century, and the restoration of the building complex and gardens began.

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Today, Le Jardin Secret is a true garden gem which is all the more precious because of its relative rarity in amongst the city bustle of the Medina. Containing two main garden sections, one tropical and the other more traditionally Arabic in its geometrical layout and planting, both gardens offer and exquisite haven of calm. Accompanied by the trickle of long, ground-level ponds running with water, and by the song of the many birds who revel in the natural abundance of the place, an hour spent in Le Garden Secret has all the benefits of several days in a health spa. Running your hands through the grasses, watching bees as they pollinate the purple and white flowers, and gazing as a gentle breeze alters the dappled reflection of tree leaves against vibrantly painted red and olive green walls, it is a truly stunning place.

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Being, by name, secret, it is also relatively quiet but no doubt that will not remain the case for long. For what better way to break away from the manic hive of activity of the Souks than to seek refuge in this perfect profundity of green in the heart of the Rose City.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Another walk one early Tuscan morning: Corn fields and pine trees

I love walking, perhaps you’ve noticed. I trace the passion back to my 2008 accident and the two years of limited movement which resulted. When finally I lost my crutches, I realised for the first time the very simple joy of being able to walk. What a liberty to be able to walk wherever your feet may take you, one that most take for granted but which we all should cherish, especially when those legs take you somewhere as beautiful as the Tuscan countryside.

On the way to the pine tree forest

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The last walk I described passed through the ravishing local vineyards whose striped embodiment of leafy lanes roll leisurely over the nearby hills. But turn the other way, and a landscape of equal enticement spreads out for the offering, one of corn fields and olive trees which back onto what in the coastal town of Donoratico is a locally iconic wood of pine trees running all the way long the sea. This dense collection of the umbrella pines which are an iconic element of the Tuscan landscape make for an incredible sight, not least from within where a glance upwards unveils a ceiling of semi-transparent pine needles punctuated with light. Meanwhile and endless collection of pine tree columns is like a cathedral of wood which apparently spreads forwards for an eternity.

Within the woods

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There is something about a wood which is deeply, sensuously mysterious, drawing you in, albeit with some trepidation as to what lies within. We adored our time wandering through this lofty space, where we stumbled upon crazily shaped fallen trees and shards of light breaking through the pine tree canopy. But best of all things was the treat at the end, as the final archway of trees led directly onto a wide sandy beach and the turquoise sea beyond.

Breaking out 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

A walk one early Tuscan morning: Vineyards and poppies

Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo, Grosseto… Tuscany plays host to more stunning cities than you can even begin to list, let alone visit on a single trip to the region. Full of art history’s jewels, quaint little streets and magical churches, these are the cities which inspired a golden age of travel. Yet the cities are only one facet of Tuscany’s charm. All along the length of the region, there are beaches so sandy that they can rival the very best of Spain’s costas. In its restaurants, the Tuscan people will tell you that the very best food of Italy is served up, from wild boar to Sopa Della Pescaia. But above all things, Tuscany is characterised by its iconic landscapes. Who hasn’t salivated over the picture postcard views of undulating hills truncated by a cypress-lined winding road? And it is this landscape, punctuated by vines and olive trees and pine-perfumed air that I like to enjoy above all things.

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I’m lucky. I have family living in the region. And that means proximity. When we visit them my favourite thing to do is to get up early, as the sun is just starting to make its ascent, and walk. Walk in whatever direction my feet take me. For all roads in Tuscany lead to a lovely landscape, as countryside paths take the earnest visitor through those perfectly ordered vineyards, across freshly ploughed fields and amongst wild flowers.

These photos are from one such morning walk when the hour was perfectly peaceful and the light a creamy tone of reflected gold. But despite the sun’s fast ascent, there was a tangible sleepiness to the air, as poppy heads drooped delicately along grassy verges, snails curled up in snoozing groups on deserted street posts, and the birds, slowly awakening, heralded the start of a sunny new day. Pure. Bliss.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

London, Rediscovering My City: Richmond Park

What Wimbledon Common offered in richly verdant, tightly packed woodland, Richmond boasted in wildly windswept, delightfully untended moorland, where great swathes of sweeping grasslands were punctuated by biblically ancient twisting oak trees, and occasional rugged rockfalls like something more characteristic of Northeast Scotland than Southwest London. But London is indeed the host to an astonishing array of green spaces, and it never fails to surprise me how bucolic an atmosphere can be found so close to the city.

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Last week’s Wimbledon adventure was followed swiftly by a tromp across the harsher, wilder lands of Richmond Park (indeed, we stumbled upon said park when an end to Wimbledon Common brought us to the somewhat harsh reality of the A3, which we rapidly crossed, eyes blinkered, before escaping back into the rural idyll of Richmond). Through one of the grand gold-gilded gateways which mark the entrance to this ancient recreational space, the magnitude of Richmond Park was immediately tangible. To call it a park is to suggest a mild-mannered patch of urban greenery, but this mighty swathe of natural ruggedness is true testament to nature winning out over the city sprawl. Even the occasional car crossing its vast geographical spread cannot compete with the true king of this space – the mighty stag, one of whom we came into satisfyingly close contact with, so much so that at one point we thought an attack was imminent.

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A few hours crossing Richmond Park was enough time to convince us that in London, this great metropolis, an embrace with the great outdoors need never be too far away. Yet just beyond the perimeter of this rurality, a welcome return to civilisation was manifested in the form of the elegant Richmond Hill, whose Georgian houses and small little pubs were glowing a richly golden yellow as all concerned basked in the setting sun, and visitors sipped on bubbles while overlooking one of the most stunning views of the Thames as it snakes alongs its course towards Kingston and beyond. In this way, green turned to gold as our rediscovery of this truly idyllic suburb of London drew to a satisfying close.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.