Small Wonders - Sprouting Broad Beans

I had some broad beans that were several years past their “plant-by” date. They were old seeds - were they alive, could they sprout? Just add water?

I put them between moist paper towels and waited.

Sprouting broad bean (Vicia faba, also known as faba or fava bean) on moist paper towel.

Sprouting broad bean (Vicia faba, also known as faba or fava bean) on moist paper towel.

Alive! There is something rather miraculous about the sprouting of seeds - especially in this case, rather dried up beans.

Planted gently…

Still alive! The wonder of the tiny leaves emerging through the soil. What a thrill!

Emerging broad bean seedling, breaking through the dark soil.

Emerging broad bean seedling, breaking through the dark soil.

Not quite the creature from the black swamp, but there is something primeval about the emerging leaflets - the surge of life, the source of the life we all depend on. There’s a world of wonder in nature’s most basic things.

And I’m struck by how much we tend to overlook the world of plants all around us - to the point where plants are treated as some kind of background green-ness. Yet we are utterly dependent on plants - we can’t afford to take their wellbeing for granted.

Perfuming the bush - Toropapa - a modest shrub with a beautiful fragrance

In the bush, it‘s as if toropapa is hiding in plain sight - the appearance of its foliage blends in with the plants around it. But follow your nose when it’s flowering, and you’ll find this small shrub. There are five species, with variation in the shape of the glossy green leaves. The one pictured was labelled Alseuosmia quercifolia (the leaves didn’t look much like oak leaves to me, but the shape of oak leaves does vary too, depending on the species.)

Alseuosmia apparently means “perfume of the grove.” While the flowering of toropapa is said to be erratic, when they do appear the clusters of small (up to 4cm) cream to pink trumpet shaped flowers really do the job. They have a lovely perfume - it can seem to fill the air. And toropapa can flower for months through winter and into spring in a good year. Lovely.

The sweet flowers of the toropapa, found flowering at Otari Native Botanic Garden in Wellington

The sweet flowers of the toropapa, found flowering at Otari Native Botanic Garden in Wellington

Toropapa has bright red berries, described as sweet tasting (and therefore edible!) But whether they have viable seed is related to the presence of plenty of nectar feeding birds, who presumably pollinate the flowers while drinking the nectar from the flowers. And alas, in many areas there is little viable seed because the numbers of these birds has plummeted. We haven’t just lost their song.

Toropapa, or karapapa - another Maori name for it, grows in places that are shaded and cool and moist but not water-logged. If these conditions are provided, it can be grown as a rather shy but lovely garden plant.

Farewell to Alfie, a great Sheltie companion

I guess most people think that the companion dog in their lives is pretty special, if not the best ever. But without doubt we were very very fortunate to have Alfie. He was a Shetland Sheepdog - chosen because they are intelligent, loyal, easily trained, great family dogs - and we had no prior dog experience. He was with us for 14 years and died just last week.

Alfie the Sheltie keeping a characteristic eye on everything at Island Bay beach, as the sun was setting.

Alfie the Sheltie keeping a characteristic eye on everything at Island Bay beach, as the sun was setting.

The close bond that developed between our human ancestors and the wolf ancestors of the modern dog had benefits for both sides. Dogs can work for us - we benefit from the amazing sensitivity of their noses and ears, their alertness and their drives to perform particular tasks. Alfie showed his herding dog genes in his watchfulness - scanning the environment, barking to alert us to the arrival of potential predators, and in his actual herding habits - lacking sheep he would confuse retrieving dogs by following them, watching them collect the object they were after, and then ensuring they returned to the person who threw it for them. Some retrieving dogs clearly thought that he was after their stick or ball - no, he was not interested in that, he just wanted to make sure they went where they were meant to go.

The so-called “nonworking” breeds also work wonders for us. We have responsibilities to care for them, and in turn they offer a degree of acceptance and apparent non-judgement which can be in stark contrast to many of the damaging human to human interactions that are on show all around us. Living with a dog means being able to learn about their ways of reacting and being. Maybe we also find a bit of humility - we humans behave as if we are superior to other animals, but being close to other species helps us to gain perspective about the complexity of life and relationships that other species enjoy.

Most of all, he was fun, friendly, smart, energetic, upbeat, determined, protective of our cats, interested in the world, and apparently happy to see us every time. (He was also very generous in shedding his floof.) What a gift to have had him in our lives!