Wednesday 12 August 2020

Small steps to Giant Country

Environmental issues are always in the forefront of my mind. Now, more than ever. 

My background was as an environmental applied biologist. I researched as an aquatic ecotoxicologist, before slowly redirecting myself as a designer and artist. 

My first dream as a child was to be the world's first practicing xenobiologist on other planets, until it occurred to me that the universe of Star Trek had not quite been realised on earth yet, and we could not comfortably travel to other planets.

My second childhood dream was to be a tree warden, after reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I then realised I was not an Ent. Quite a shock.

So, I didn't pursue that either, but our past does not leave us.

We take it with us, and somehow incorporate it into who we are now. I know that my values and passions and instincts are still entwined within the natural world, and connected to our place, impact and responsibility for our health and the health of the planet, whether I explore that as a biological researcher, a NHS graphic designer, an artist or as an individual. 

I know that my artistic subject matter often comes back to the natural environment, and our impact on our natural world. And although I couldn't get from planet to planet, I did not give up on my dream of travelling from world to world, whilst exploring different countries and cultures on this, our most precious planet.

So with all that background, feeding my intuition, when I saw three pods from a Royal Poinciana (Delonix Regia), also known as Flamboyant or more commonly Flame tree in Parap, a suburb of Darwin, at the Top End of the Northern Territory, Australia, my imagination took flight. 

The flame tree is part of the bean family, Fabaceae. It has fern-like leaves and the most flamboyant orange/scarlet flowers.

I took the opportunity to be one of those people who begin to explore what I could do, personally, no matter how small that action may be.

The first step was to pick up three bean pods from the current crop. 

Finding bean pods of the Flame Tree in Parap

Having selected a few beans from the pods, these were kept in Dave's fridge, until we got some growing media, in some pretty large pots. We had nine beans in total. This was at the beginning of 2018's dry season. 

The flame tree's bean pods

I then left Australia and whilst away, Dave watered them. At the end of six months we had... NOTHING. 

Not a single thing. Oh come on. Does nature not want our help or what? Ok, so things may not work the first time around, but my wild imaginings, and magic beans not-withstanding, of a massive tree climbing all the way to giant country were being sorely tested!

The project was put on hold for a while, during the annual trek to New Zealand to wait out the wet season and so nature was left to do her thing, without this impatient expectation from humans, and copiously watered the pots without us. She is quite self reliant. 

On our return, the beans had sprouted... 

Ok, so 9 months were needed in the end, not 6 months as Google had assured us. What was up with the world? Perhaps mother nature is not so hard wired into our preferred global search engine to so readily give up her secrets. 

Tiny dicotyledon seedlings

By the end of the wet season in 2019, we had two seedlings. And their growth rate in the tropics is quite quick. This had not occurred to me, being used to a more temperate climate. It's pretty amazing to see the growth of things like bananas, and papayas and such.

Quickly growing seedlings

By the time we got to the end of the dry season 2019, the two saplings were ready to plant. So we took them back to Parap, and planted them. 

Transplanting the saplings

No small task, given we had to move two, six foot saplings across town in the motorhome, in two very heavy pots, in very hot and humid weather. One of the saplings didn't hold up to the reduced water, or transplantation, or the new environment. However, the second did well, and grew rapidly. 

Planting day

If its root system can take, it should hopefully survive the next wet, with its cyclonic winds... It need not be supported, as this challenge - the force of the winds, is what has led to trees like this growing strong enough to flex, and grow the root systems necessary to flourish. 

Taking hold

The flame tree is doing quite well, and I look forward to the time that I can look on it again in person. At time of writing we are coming out of lockdown in the UK, after the initial, horrifying battering of the COVID-19 pandemic, where many dreams lie in tatters. A human cyclonic-forced storm if ever I witnessed one. 

Our roots are deep however, and I am sure we can weather this.

I try to remember this saplings' beginnings as I go through life's challenges myself. 

There will be many more beans. And certainly Australia and the planet need reforestation to help with both climate change and species survival, including our own. 

Just think. If each one of us planted just one tree...what would be the impact on our planet. And us. 

Small steps indeed, but they might just get us to Giant Country.


  1. What a wonderful article David. An inspiring call to all of us. Xx

  2. That is terrific in more than one way. And what a beautiful tree xx

    1. Thank you, and yes, the Flame tree is wonderful. Such a colourful flower too