Green Culture for Kids!

Toy Story and Monsters Inc

The colour green brings to mind some famous film characters from the Pixar films such as the Aliens from Toy Story who are very grateful when Buzz Lightyear saves them. I think they are so funny and cute! Mike from Monsters Inc. [2002] [DVD] is another Pixar character who is one of the main characters in the film. He is alien-like in appearance as he has small horns one big eye and lime green skin.

Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

Ireland has cultural associations with the colour green that we see in celebrations like St Patrick’s Day. One of my favourite books set in Ireland is called Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy. This book is about a badly behaved girl who goes to live with her father and his new wife and child. As she lives there, this time she learns how to be kind and grows to love her family in Ireland. I like this book because it shows that change for the better is possible even when times are difficult.

Green also brings to mind Springtime and new plant life. We can see this in the new leaves and the way that they make an area seem happy and full of life with their bright, fresh colours. Leaves also have a soothing rustling sound in a calm breeze, it’s a sign of a new beginning! I hope everybody has a happy spring!

The Enduring Popularity of Nature Writing

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

When we think of green, we immediately see the connection with flora and the natural world. Nature writing is having a bit of a moment right now and this modern renaissance started with The Peregrine by J.A. Baker which is now seen as a major classic in the genre and won the Duff Cooper Prize in 1967. The Peregrine is a story of observing the peregrines that lived near the author in the landscape of the Essex marshes. Strangely, I have discovered that this author lived in my home town and attended the same school as my husband! The popularity of nature writing about birds continues from then on to this day and is successfully echoed in H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald a double prize winning book from 2014. This book is about how falconry helped her to come to terms with the death of her father.

Nature writing has been around for a long time, so why has it grown in popularity in recent years? This is probably due to two different factors:

Increased Urbanisation

As modern life becomes increasingly urbanised and green spaces such as allotments and easy access to unadulterated tracts of countryside are lost, in essence people have an increasing need for nature and greenery as they are ever more denied this in their daily lives. Through accessing descriptive writing about beautiful woods, lakes, sea, and green land they can experience (albeit in a second hand way) some elements of countryside life. They may be on a grey tube train underground with no actual greenery visible to them but can be immersed in a fictional landscape of restoring green.

Mindfulness and A Need to Relax

Secondly, we have come to realise that the ever increasing technology has made living twenty four seven a reality as we are never switched off from our work which has increased stress and illness levels. To escape from this, we have realised the importance of switching off, meditation and mindfulness. All of these practices are conducive to spending time in nature whether through actual immersion, visualisation or reading about it in nature writing. Connecting with the natural world is an essential part of what it means to be human. We have evolved as people in the natural world connecting and interacting with nature. Urbanisation is a relatively recent phenomena and though it brings convenience to us (as we can live and work in a geographically smaller space), we have also increased stress levels, noise and pollution all of which are detrimental to our mental and physical well-being.

The popularity of nature writing speaks to a desire and craving for the natural world that is perhaps being denied in real life. In this genre we have examples of ‘true wilderness’ writers such as Roger Deakin, Robert Macfarlane etc, that focus on rural areas and concurrently we see a more recent increase in writers who emphasise that you do not need to necessarily live or have regular access to remote areas of countryside to reap the benefits of contact with nature. Two writers that spring to mind are Rob Cowan in his book Common Ground and David Lindo in Tales from Concrete Jungles: Urban birding around the world. Both of these writers emphasise that regular access to brownfield or urban spaces that attract wildlife such as city parks are invaluable to wellbeing.

My favourite tree! A Beech I think...
My favourite tree! A Beech I think…

I am relatively lucky where I currently live as I have a wood five minutes away where I can access nature quite easily (when it’s not too muddy and slippery as the path is on a steep slope!). I love to spend time in here, here is a picture of my favourite tree a lovely old beech I think! We have a rich diversity of wildlife around us from the Tawny owls, bats and foxes at night to finches and jays in the day. The strangest thing that ever happened nature wise was a heron landing in the garden when we don’t have a pond! There is also a disused stone quarry nearby that is rich in wildlife that has sadly recently been earmarked for development so this may be lost:( A little further afield we also have access to the moors, my favourite landscape ever which is a little bit strange considering that I grew up in the flat South of the country!

Of course there has been a unique relationship with nature and creativity forever,  which is evident in ancient cave paintings through to Wordsworth’s Daffodils, Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and beyond. Nature seems to spark that creative fire and being creative is another core essential trait and need of what it means to be human.

I love the writings of Robert MacFarlane author of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (a huge bestseller) and Roger Deakin who sum up the very best of the genre. A recent book Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison adds to the genre, she emphasises the importance of connecting with nature through walking in the rain. One of my favourite words and scents is ‘petrichor’ which means the smell of the earth after rain.

Overall then, we can see the reasons why nature writing has grown in popularity and it looks set to continue ever more.

Mr Green Holmes

Mr Holmes

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I had been eager to see Mr Holmes [DVD] [2015]this film for a while and recently watched it and was not disappointed. What does this film have to do with our theme of ‘Green’ this month? Well, I think that the colour ‘green’ links in with this film very well for two reasons. One, as it is set in the green hills of the Sussex Downs and two, that the also features ‘prickly ash’ a rare plant from Japan that is key to the film.

Ian McKellen is extraordinary here as a very fragile and decrepit Sherlock who has exiled himself away from London to a life of quiet reverie and beekeeping in Sussex (a reference to two of the later Conan Doyle stories where Holmes is living in Sussex as an Apiarist). The film is set shortly after the Second World War of which the devastation is apparent in Japanese scenes and has affected some of the characters’ lives. Painful to watch here is Holmes’s mental decline to dementia, as memories fade in and out, we learn that he is trying to preserve his faculties by taking royal jelly and prickly ash (the latter obtained from Japan).

Holmes is also trying to remember his last case (with the help of his housekeeper’s son Roger) which Watson fabricated but which Holmes is sure went horribly wrong and that he was to blame. He is invited to Japan by a Mr Umezaki who wants to consult with him about obtaining prickly ash but has also invited him there for another reason which you’ll have to find out for yourself!

Ultimately, this is a film concerned with the themes of memory, kindness and emotional versus academic intelligence, Holmes remembers Watson fondly and realises that he may have sometimes fictionalised accounts of cases to be kind to Holmes and make him appear the hero.

The film itself is based on the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin which I am now keen to read as the film was very good. All in all, this film was an excellent addition to the Holmes cannon, it was very sympathetic to the character and was excellently directed by Bill Condon and superbly acted by Ian McKellen and Laura Linney who give tremendously good performances, watch it if you can!

A ‘Green’ History

Green has an interesting association with many different things. Green is the colour of St. Patrick’s day. In addition, it is the colour that is most associated with gardening, such as in the phrase “green-fingered;” meaning a keen gardener. Also, it is the colour associated with envy, as I have mentioned in a previous post. This month I will look at the history of the “Green” movement or environmentalism as it is also known.

The Grassroots of the ‘Green Movement’

The true beginnings of environmentalism come from the ideas of the 19th Century, as Britain and other nations were becoming urbanised and industrialised, the countryside began to be seen as something to admire. Living in a clean environment was seen to be an increasingly important thing to do. However it would not be until Rachel Carson, a marine biologist published her influential book Silent Spring (Penguin Modern Classics) where the modern environmental movement began. The book mentioned the alarming negative effects that indiscriminate pesticide use (such as DDT) had. It was a hugely influential book that described the negative impact that people could have on the environment and even influenced the creation of the organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. But, perhaps the most important impact of the book was that it would start to bring recognition from governments to employ policies to protect the environment such as the banning of the use of the DDT pesticide. Although, despite this environmentalism would during the 1960s and 1970s be a grassroots movement and generally counter-culture idea, that was mostly associated with the hippie sub-culture. Yet the book had laid the ground work for mainstream appreciation of looking after the environment.

Image of US postage stamp from the 1970s, highlighting the environmental concerns of the era

Into the mainstream

There begun a growing acceptance  of environmentalism amongst most people with an increase in programs of recycling. This then led to an increased awareness of global warming and a need to reduce carbon emissions by the end of the twentieth century. This was most recently seen from the 2015 climate change summit in Paris, which shows that there is no sign of the movement from declining yet.

Image from the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris, France

So there we have it, an aspect of the history of “Green”. Please let us know of any other associations you may have with the colour green.

‘Green’ in Gardening

Green is the quintessential colour that is most apparent in the flora we have around us. Often we speak of “greenery” or how we want to “green up” an outdoor space. Green is the theme for this month and in the world of gardening you can go from pale greens, to dark greens and even glaucous blue greens and everything in between.

One especially bold, deep green is the Viburnum Tinus. The miniature white flowers pop out against the deep green foliage. This is an evergreen shrub which flowers in the late winter and makes an interesting addition to any border and provides a constant bold green colour throughout the year.

Viburnum Tinus

Another use of green on a completely different scale here are the Sempervivums or house leeks. These make an excellent choice for the rockery or can be grown in pots or dedicated alpine containers alongside other alpine succulents. There is a particular house leek called the Sempervivum Arachnoideum which as you may have guessed by the name has a delicate lace cobweb strung between the points of the leaves.

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Sempervivum Arachnoideum

Of course no article about green would be complete without the mention of grasses. Ornamental grasses have particularly gained favour in recent years as valuable and important additions to a mixed perennial border. There are many species which can be used to differing effects.

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Stipa Gigantea

A notable species here is the Stipa Gigantea that has large tall leaves and beautiful tall flower spikes. Another species though a fair bit smaller is the Carex Pendula. This grass has rather wide sword like leaves that are folded which give it the most interesting texture.

Green is one colour that while not in short supply in gardening can be exploited using different textures and shades.