Monday, 31 May 2010


For the last few days i've been going to Accrington in Lancashire to interview allotment holders at Peel Park.

The weather was so hot and sunny - what a lovely time to spend days hanging around on beautiful plots with such interesting and generous people.

There are quite a few derelict plots on the site and there was a particular one that i really liked - a bit isolated and overgrown, it was enchanting with its dandelion seeds floating about on the breeze shimmering in the sunlight.

I have to say that the plot holders i spoke to kept wonderful plots with fruit and vegetables and flowers and herbs (not fields of dandelions).They were so nice to me and one lady gave me a drink of Dandelion & Burdock in a plastic orange beaker- a blast from the past.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Taraxacum japonicum

I got an email from Owen, the botanist, the other day in reply to my query about whether the dandelions i collected in Japan were native or not... i expected they were, but wanted some kind of confirmation too.

This is his reply:

Hi Becs

Here are my thoughts on the Japanese dandelion pictures. None of them seem to have the reflexed outer involucral bracts that one would associate with the introduced Taraxacum officinale, so my belief is that all the images you've sent to me are of native dandelion species. You've obviously got an eye for them.

Image08 (pictured here) - The horned ("corniculate") involucral bracts suggest T. japonicum, which is said to occur from Kinki district (i.e including Kyoto) westwards.

Image29 - hairy stem and short-horned bracts suggest T. variabile

The others are hard to classify because the salient features are not photographed, but the Kyoto plants may include T. pectinatum

Most of the other possibilities seem to have heads that are too far across (5cm).
It's hard to be sure about all this but at least these are plausible.

Loads of love


Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Suddenly all the dandelions have gone to seed - all the ones by the derelict plot on Glover's Court that were last week all yellow are now fluffy and white. It's hard to resist blowing on them or flicking them with my hand.

I got a text from my botanist friend Owen yesterday:

'Will look properly at your Japanese Taraxacum this week. Have noticed once again how adverts make Dandelion THE archetypal weed. How are you chuck? Been just now at a social cum working meeting with a friend who's got a visiting reader's post at Munich Uni so thought about Thomas & you. Loads of love, Owen'

He's the only person i know who uses Latin in a text.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Leaving Frenchwood Street

I have lived on Frenchwood Street in Preston for 5 years (2 weeks short of 5 years), but by the end of this week i'll be moving to a new place. I'm surrounded by boxes and the walls are now bare, the phone gets cut off tomorrow and the local charity shop has refused any more of my tat. Lots has happened in the past 5 years: good and bad. I'm happy to leave this street now with the crime and grime (the police use our wheelie bin to tie the crime scene tape to!), but i am quite fond of the place too and our neighbours are lovely.

The dandelion leaves here are from the top end of Frenchwood Street (from a most precious spot). Although they look a bit weak and pathetic (i collected them a couple of months ago) the plant is now beautiful, healthy and green with a couple of full flowers on: surviving in the crack in the dirty pavement. I collected new leaves from the same plant yesterday - probably the last i'll collect from this street.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Funny Canadians

My friend Elizabeth sent me this image the other day of dandelions for sale in a store in Toronto.

I'd love to see the farm they come from - fields of dandelions - i wonder if they let them flower.

I'm not sure how successful trying the sell them here in UK would go...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Weed Tour of Preston

On the 28th April I lead one of the alternative tours of Preston for the Place Beyond Place symposium organised by In Certain Places*

I took the participants around some of the back streets of the city centre to discover the weed hot-spots and I talked about where the plants had originated from and why they thrive in the harsh urban environment. I also talked about how my interest in the dandelions of Preston had led me on a trip to Japan and that it was the recognition of familiar plants that helped me navigate my way around an unfamiliar landscape.

One of the other artists leading a tour was Catriona Stamp. She's a maker of artists books and she gave me the most delightful little book she'd made Wild Flowers as it has a dandelion in it. I'm loving that people bring me things and send images and stories with dandelions in them.

This image here is of St John's Place and was taken by Andy Greenacre

*a public art initiative and action research project based here in Preston

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What Now?

So, now what do I do?

I've been back from Japan for a couple of weeks now and i've been constantly thinking of what I should do with all this information i've gathered. My trip to Japan was so wonderful and inspirational - working out how to express that will take a while i think.

There is a list of individuals that really helped me with my trip:

Peter, Mayumi, Erika and Mike - for their generous hospitality (and Lorcan for the original introduction)

David Swift - for all his advice and information about travel, eating and customs etc

Mari Fuji-Pratt - for all her support, help and translating my name into Japanese

Takeshi Hayashi - at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts (and Nobby and Natalie for the original introduction)
Shiba - for all her advice on travelling in Japan as a lone female (and Simon and Gav for putting us in contact)

Dr Christine Guth - for chatting to me about the project and giving me new directions of investigation (and Neil for the original introduction)
Charles Quick - for encouraging me to apply for research funding
Helen - for offering to send me extra cash when all flights out of Tokyo were cancelled because of the Icelandic volcano

They all contributed to a fascinating experience that will remain with me forever - thanks!!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Japan Trip Day 9 - Volcano

Day 9
I had a great night at the Hilton Hotel at Narita Airport and got up early to get to Terminal 2.

My flight was cancelled.

It was the only one on the board to be cancelled (i was in the terminal with only 5 European flights - terminal 1 was by all accounts in chaos).

Nobody from Finnair came to see us at first, but when they did they sent me straight to the other end of the terminal to get on the standby list for a flight to London (i should have been flying to Manchester via Helsinki) with Japan Airlines.

I had to sit around and wait. The British Embassy had sent a nice chap to see if we were all ok and to inform us about stuff. He was really kind and encouraged me to queue early - and I got on the flight! It was the first flight out of Tokyo to London for days: there was a family in front of me that had been living in the airport for 4 days waiting to get a flight. So, i was incredibly lucky. I had even more luck on the flight - a vegetarian had cancelled their flight - so i got their meals!

After the 13 hour flight I got to Heathrow by about 5pm, got across London to Euston and caught the 7.30 train to Preston to get home by 10pm

And that's it - my trip completed. The most amazing thing I've ever done in my life. The images I hold in my head will stay with me forever.

The image here is a dandelion from a scroll in the National Museum in Tokyo
Flowers and Birds of the Four Seasons by Sakai Hoitsu
Edo Period 1818

Japan Trip Day 8 - Botanical Gardens

Day 8
Getting lost on the way to what i thought was the Kyoto Botanical Gardens I went to visit the Nishi Temple and the ornate Karamon gate instead. Not one to give in I finally found a park on the map - a fairly neglected public park with an enclosed bit in the middle that cost 200 Yen to get in (about £1.60).

No kidding, i was the only visitor in the park - wandering around in the pouring rain looking at plants trying to avoid the freaky feral cats that kept growling at me. There were weird birds calling in the trees, but i couldn't see them and steam trains hooting nearby. An altogether strange place to venture. I collected dandelion leaves from near the sign post to the entrance of the park and left.

On getting back and looking in my guide book I since discovered I was in totally the wrong area of Kyoto to find the botanical gardens and was instead at a funny little park called Umekoji-koen!

I caught the train to Tokyo and then got the NEX to the airport where I was staying overnight. The original plan was to meet up in the late afternoon with a couple of friends (actually the friends of the ex-girlfriend of my house mates brother) but because of the Icelandic volcano travel trouble I decided to go straight to the airport and arrived there by 6pm.

Japan Trip Day 7 - Japanese Dandelions

Day 7
I was glad to get up and out of the hotel - i had a night of vivid disturbing dreams that left me feeling unsettled...

I bought a bus pass and caught the bus up to Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion) - the most wonderfully peaceful gardens, the smell was heavenly sweet and the moss a fresh green - a couple of chaps were sweeping the moss of leaves. Needless to say there wasn't a blade of grass out of place and so i didn't find any dandelions.

The excitement came as i strolled along the Philosopher's Walk that leads from near the Pavilion along the cherry-tree-lined canal* along the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) leading to Nanzen-ji.
As I walked along some dandelions caught me eye - they were growing on the steep walled edges leading down to the canal water - and they looked quite delicate and the leaves were a bit different. So, I clung to a tree and reached down to pick a couple of leaves and a flower. I also took shots too. As it goes I reckon they are Japanese dandelions - how exciting! There were quite a few along the walk from then on - so I collected a number of specimens.

I stopped for lunch beside the canal and was rained upon by a shower of cherry blossom petals - beautiful.

It was a hot sunny day and after visits to the Jodo-sect temple at Honen-in and the massive gateway of the Nanzen-ji Temple and the western style Meji-period aqueduct I caught the bus back into the city.

I walked through parts of the Gion District - with its winding streets, people, shadows, shrines, shops and i caught sight of a couple of maiko (apprentice geisha) with their tall koppori clogs, beautiful arranged hair and costumes with embroidered collar.

I walked for 9 hours and was totally exhausted by the evening, but so very happy with my day in Kyoto: dandelions, temples, blossom, people and sunshine. Perfect.

*clear the image of a British canal from your mind : the water was clear, shallow, fast running with a sprinkling of cherry blossom petals floating on the top (not a dead dog in sight)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Japan Trip Day 6 - Kyoto

Day 6
Hmmm - do I need to mention i woke with a hangover...?

It was a beautiful day and I packed and then decided to walk all the way across the city to get to the station via the peace park again, along the river, through the shopping district and into a fantastic comic shop too.

The train journey to Kyoto was good and i was sat by the window so i got great views of the passing countryside.

Kyoto station is absolutely massive - it took 10 mins to get out onto the street, but my hotel* was nearby and easy to find.

I strolled out in the late afternoon to see the Higashi Hongan-ji Temples which were wonderfully beautiful with practically nobody else there. One of the buildings is the largest wooden structure in the world and was so impressive. I managed to pick two dandelion leaves from inside the grounds without being caught - i did the 'pretending-to-look-at-my-guide-book-while-crouching-down' trick.

I then walked for 3 hours and covered miles wandering along streets and going down lanes people and building watching. I was totally exhausted when i got back to the hotel and my legs and knees were beginning to give in.

After a meal of food bought from a bakery and the convenience store nearby I slept on my little futon in my tiny room surrounded by the noise of the passing city.

*The word hotel is a generous term to use to describe my accommodation. It was a Japanese Ryokan style place, but for backpackers that can't afford the posh ones.