Wednesday 8 January 2014

The Lost Garden

Last week we went down the lane to the cliffs so this week I thought I’d take you up the hill to the ‘lost’ garden. I discovered this some years ago whilst rambling through the olive groves at the back of the house. In truth it is not lost at all but merely neglected and belongs to a neighbour of mine. I have two reasons for wanting to visit it today: firstly it contains a pond that I would like to get to the bottom of (literally) and secondly his oranges and lemons are ripe and he always lets me have a few to make some English style marmalade.

Turning off the lane we climb through the olive grove through shoulder high stalks of last year’s fennel passing carob and fig trees until we come to the citrus trees, the air highly perfumed by fruit ripening in the early morning sun. Grapevines sprawl along the ground like Medusa’s snakes on a bad hair day and poking out from between the tendrils is an insignificant looking plant with small, yellow flowers.

White Mustard (Sinapis alba)
Take a closer look. Those hairy seed capsules (called siliquae) are full of mustard seeds, in this case white mustard. Although these produce a milder flavour than black or brown Indian mustard the strength of any of them can be varied. The addition of water to the ground seeds releases two chemical compounds which create the ‘heat’. As one of the compounds, an enzyme called myrosinase, is denatured by high temperatures, mixing the seed with hot water creates a milder mustard and mixing with cold water creates a hot mustard.

Climbing over a low stone wall we come to the pond, dominated at one end by a huge wall of Rosemary which climbs the cliff behind it. Honey bees and butterflies are busy harvesting nectar from its small blue flowers. Beneath our feet is a bed of Horse Mint which has run wild so our every step releases an invigorating draught of fresh minty air.

The rescued beetle (Elaphocera sp.)
The surface of the pond is quiet at this time of year apart from one small beetle, flailing about and very much out of his element as he is not one of the aquatic species. I’ll rescue him and take him home to dry out and then we can take a closer look at him. I’ll also take some water samples from the top, middle and bottom of the pond and we can examine them under the microscope when we get back.

Inocybe sp.?
Retracing our steps and pausing to collect four oranges and a lemon en route we make for the other end of the garden. Here among the leaf litter below the Linden trees is a little cluster of mushrooms. I am happy to find these as the fungi season is very short out here and we have nowhere near the diversity that exists in more northerly latitudes. These are gill mushrooms of the order Agaricales and, though I’m no mycologist, their fibrous caps lead me to believe that they may be members of the Inocybaceae family. Anyone care to elaborate?

So, let us head for home and get these pond samples under the microscope. 

The top and middle levels are providing nothing much of interest but down in the murky depths we have life. These tiny little creatures are called diatoms, a type of algae that forms the very basis of the complex food web of the pond. Without these our pond would be sterile. Fascinating stuff nature, isn’t it?

As usual there was far more to see and discuss than could be covered in one small blog but you can see more on our facebook page: Steve's Naturalists' Group. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a few butterflies that can be seen in the south of Crete in January, some of which were flitting around the Rosemary back at the pond. Until next week – good hunting.



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