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My Mum takes a certain amount of amused pride in recalling to friends my first words, such as flowlu, fishhh, birt (I couldn't get the "d" or "er" sound, no teeth, yet). Little did she know then, it would become a life-long obsession! Having been born in England, where there is a centuries long interest in understanding and categorising the natural world, such occupational hazards are much the rule of thumb. Strangely enough, although I studied botany, natural sciences and chemistry, I am an artist, working mainly in oils and ceramics! I guess I never took seriously the idea of making a living at something I loved so much. Now, that is changing, as I write a great deal about plants and have just taken over the editorship of the Hemerocallis Europa Newsletter. I seem to be returning to the fold, although I feel I've never left it.
Water is probably the single most important element in my life, as I have never lived far from a major body of water, be it the Atlantic, Pacific, Tarn, Thames, Amsel or Rhein. I just have to have its presence. I'm even born under a water sign! That I would spend my free time with aquaria and ponds and all that grows around is no surprise to my family and most of them have been witness to many experiments in the name of understanding the natural world. A lucky few even have gardens graced with my idea of biological diversity, ranging from perennials, trees and grasses to ponds, streams and waterfalls, the best with all of these.
I currently reside in Cologne, Germany, one of the oldest cities in northern Europe with a population of plus one million. Built by the Romans along the Rhein, the settlement first attained its city rights in A.D. 50 under the name Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, which, through history has been shortened to Colonia, then Coeln and finally Köln. The version Cologne was French and stuck in the English language. By the way, we are not named after the perfumed water, it is named after the city! We enjoy a mild climate, rarely reaching -10°C in Winter or broaching +35°C in Summer. In many ways, we resemble the Pacific Midwest in the U.S.A. Due to the relatively crowded nature of older European cities, large gardens are seldom found and I am indeed lucky to have about 600 sq. meters to cultivate. In comparison with my American gardening friends, a postage stamp! Such restrictions force one to concentrate his efforts and make every square centimetre count. I'm always amazed at just how much one can cram in!
I suppose it is quite normal that a gardener chooses a few favourites to "work" with, to truly investigate and understand their requirements and complexity, for myself, Iris, orchids, Hemerocallis, roses, water lilies and lotus have been recurring themes. My main hybridising programs revolve around Hemerocallis and water Iris, with Nymphaea now becoming an attainable goal. You see, this is the first time I have actually owned a house, making all sorts of nonsense possible! I'm already eyeing the neighbours' property to annex in the name of research!
A bit about my current pond, which is not very large at 10
x 4 meters, with an attached water run of about 15 meters connecting
to the main body via a small waterfall. There is something about
the sound of running water that excites and soothes all at the
same time. I have, also, noted that a watercourse is an excellent
opportunity to create a natural filter system! Via a series of
dammed sections, the water drops its organic load as it flows
through the course, picking up much needed oxygen
during its cascade back into the main body. Many plants prefer
such moving waters, increasing the scope of the garden. There
are even fishes which reside in this stream! (no, not salmon!)
Generally, I favour a natural system, although I have incorporated
filters and UV systems in other projects. I find that a balanced
water system is considerably easier to maintain and I am now
convinced that my koi share this opinion. They always find something
to amuse them and still come swimming when I approach the water.