Ecology Wilderness

Cow Parsley

Such a beautiful pentagonal structure.

Not to be confused with Yarrow. I never could get this to grow from the seed I picked up at Samye Ling.

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Fooling around with 20m2 on a roof terrace in the centre of London, there are distinct limitations to one what can achieve in a garden. I could, as the genius Mark Ridsdill Smith does, grow a lot more vegetables. However, my own view is that whatever vegetables I grow to eat – and this year it’s been spinach, leeks, rocket, red cabbage, yacon, potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, beetroot, and tomatoes – is only ever going to be a token, for giggles…

For whatever reason, after growing cavalo nero, lettuces, and spinach erbette, I’ve cooled on growing leaves. I’ll grow spinach again over the winter but, although they are touted as the best things to grow in the city (because they are fast to grow and expensive to buy), I find leaves somehow boring.

Equally I find most ornamentals, often highly cultivated plants you couldn’t imagine happening in nature, almost products of a laboratory, a very tedious thing to grow. The flowers I’m growing, borage, phacelia, limanthes, marigolds, sunflowers, dandelions, nasturtiums are found at vegetable-growing seed suppliers as varieties that are good for insect life. Even my most ornamental flowers honeysuckle, poppies, zinnias, dahlias, (this last especially a concession to Mrs Ingram who loves them – they are beautiful…) are renowned for being attractive to pollinators.

What works very well among these select vegetables, trees, and carefully-chosen flowers, are herbs. Ever since I came across Juliette de Baïracli Levy and went on Kirsten Hartvig’s amazing country ramble at Forest Row I’ve been enchanted by them and their awesome potential. In the city they really work well, they don’t take up masses of space, the bugs love them, and they are fascinating. Currently, I am growing nothing particularly far out.

I believe that what one grows in the city should fundamentally address our urban alienation from nature. That selection should be geared to making us connect with the process of growing, with the seasons, with the cycle of life and death, and our cosmic alignment. In the city, we can’t pretend that we’re living wholly natural lives, but at least we can use growing to keep in touch with those things; like a diver underwater has an oxygen tank.

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Researching my forthcoming book which is now complete, “The Garden: Visionary Growers and Farmers of the Counterculture”, I visited the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod. Watch this wonderful National Film Board of Canada documentary if you’re interested in finding out a little about New Alchemy.

I interviewed Hilde Maingay and Earle Barnhart, the married couple who were central members of the collective. They now live at the site itself, which was originally not inhabited. Maingay herself was the main grower; the garden there was at the heart of New Alchemy’s activity.

I enjoyed their company so much that during lunch I offered to make them a video for their current project, the P-POD. Between jobs this past few weeks I designed and animated this film which I can share with you.

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The World About Us

Created by David Attenborough “The World About Us” was a BBC Two television documentary series. Its central topic was natural history, but it had a wide remit covering people and geography. Running from 1967 to 1986 its list of contributors is remarkable.

“The World About Us” was the only TV show which, as children, we were allowed to stay up late to watch. It aired on Sunday evenings in the mid-seventies. I trace my fascination with animation back to The Pink Panther and The Rescuers, but before them “The World About Us” title sequence, commissioned by Attenborough, was the first thing that entranced me. What was this, this golden latticed globe, with its eerie aftertrails? Where was it?

My initial hunch was that the sequence was the work of Bernard Lodge who made the first Dr. Who title sequence, and I was correct. Blogger Tim Dickinson Pink for Your Actual Pterodactyl has a wonderful breakdown of it.

Lodge designed a skeleton ‘globe’ from bands of metal. The bands intersected both vertically and diagonally… Filming on 35mm, the globe revolved on a black background, and the camera tracked from one side of the screen to another. This negative was later replicated with the bands rotating in the opposite direction. The key ingredient was the duplication of the film six times, with each frame shifted by 2 or 3 frames. The resulting dupe (negative) consisted of a swirling array of bands.

An additional negative of the globe zooming into the screen was recorded, again using the same process. This faded out as the two tracking shots (the ‘pan from left to right, and right to left) cleared the frame. This left the sans-serif title caption to fade in, before the sequence fades to black in time with the final flute motif. Lodge used a simple and effective technique, using multiple exposures to create a world rich in mystery and intrigue. The repeated imagery fits perfectly with the swirling, echoing, multi-layered soundtrack.

The title sequence to ‘The World About Us’ (BBC, 1967, Bernard Lodge)

The cue by John Scott was, I know now, straight out of the Paul Horn playbook. Jazz as it sheared into the New Age. The sequence has all the hallmarks of Hauntology, because (and this is my own definition), this was TV as a conduit of the countercultural current.

Animation is a very etheric pursuit, but refreshingly these metaphysical graphics and music were tethered to a TV show on… the world about us. As above, so below.

Practice Spirituality

No New Age Mix

Mahakala. Protector of the Dharma.

This mix accompanies the chapter New Age in my book “The “S” Word”.

Woebot Field Recording – The brook at Samye Ling
Tony Scott – Za-Zen (Meditation)
Paul Horn – Mantra/Meditation
Don Robertson – Dawn
Iasos – Aries
Deuter – Aum
Dadawah – Run Come Rally
Keita – 流れ : Nagare
Jon Hassell – Ba-benzélé
Sheila Chandra – Quiet 1
Fumio Miyashita – 神/Kami
Shiho Yabuki – Energy Flow (Ki No Nagare)
Hiroshi Yoshimura – Dream
Brian Eno – Quartz
Manuel Göttsching – Ocean Of Tenderness
Hans-Joachim Roedelius – Veilchenwurzeln
Popol Vuh – Brüder Des Schattens – Söhne Des Lichts
Laraaji – The Dance #1
Karlheinz Stockhausen – Mantra, for 2 pianos with percussion & electronics: Movement 4
John Cage – In A Landscape
Harold Budd – First Light
Deep Listening Band – Seven-Up
Somei Satoh – Mantra
Daniel Emmanuel – Wizards: Part II: Prayer
Steve Roach – Reflections In Suspension
Woebot Field Recording – The Grafton Peace Pagoda

Ecology Urban


Ecology Spirituality Urban

Sunflower Sutra

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—

—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these

entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!   

And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!

So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,

and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,

—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Allen Ginsberg, Berkeley, 1955

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In the past I have never liked Sunflowers. I always felt there was something ungainly about them. That they were such a popular flower, I think also brought out my snobbishness. What is a music critic but a snob?

However, on my journey writing “The Garden” I came across them repeatedly. More than any other plant they are emblematic of the hippie movement. In practical terms, not only do they attract wildlife, they also create a crop with their seeds. They are not a boring ornamental.

For instance, this is Helen Nearing’s walled garden at The Good Life Center in Maine. I wish I had a better photo of the Sunflower itself, a volunteer which the center’s residents let grow because it was Helen’s favourite plant. You can see it in the distance against the back wall on the left.

Therefore, this year I decided to grow them myself. On the left in the seed tray are the classic Giant Yellow variety; on the right with the darker stalks are Velvet Queens.

When the seedlings got root bound, I graduated the larger ones to pots.

Here are the largest and most promising seven plants.

Then I started hardening them up outdoors on the roof garden where we get a lot of sun.

These too needed planting up quite quickly. Lorra growing power in Sunflowers which can reach up to 30 feet tall.

I planted the biggest three into my own compost in large pots which I had been protecting through the winter with clover. This will be their final destination. I’m excited to see how they will get on through the Summer.

Food Growing Urban

April Raised Bed Update

Half the Spinach was already harvested but I wanted to flip these beds to Beetroot.

I was very proud of these Leeks but they took FOREVER to grow.


Very nice crop of Spinach. Did well through the Winter.

Rocket was surprisingly excellent. I’ve a bad habit of leaving it too long. It then gets woody, “lignin”, but this was delicious.

After everything had been harvested.


Mulched with this stuff which I bought by accident but subsequently got great value out of.

Out come the Beetroot seedlings from under the grow-lights. Less far along than I was with the soil blocks last year.

Looking very cheerful in their new home. Gotta love Beetroot.

Planting my other seedlings from indoors. Chamomile. Calendula. Red Cabbage. Rosemary. For the first time, I sieved my potting compost. I’m going to do this every time from now onwards.

Pretty alarming all this huge debris. Great compost though – and this stuff is nice mulch for my bigger plants.

Here are the seedlings in their makeshift tent.

Washing Spinach.

Rocket and Spinach ready to eat.

Leeks steaming on the stove.

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Oranges and Lemons

My original 7″ of “Vitamin C”.

[Obligatory moment’s silence to commemorate the life of Damo Suzuki.]

Thanks to the intervention of David Stubbs and generosity of the CAN organisation, I was able to license “Vitamin C” and “Dead Pigeon Suite” (variations on the theme) for my Vitamin C animation. I went to meet Damo in Hackney at the Total Refreshment Centre in May 2018 when he played one of his group improvisational concerts.

We chatted after the gig and later on exchanged emails. Damo wrote complimenting the film, “Good Afternoon, Matthew! It’s very educational and I liked it…” He did, however, express some frustration that, at this very early stage, he didn’t have a credit at its conclusion. I don’t believe I was completely aware of the scale of his contribution to the song, “I was as a singer of them, lyric is written my self, also melody what I sung. Strange world…….” He signed off, “Have a nice Evening! Energy!”

Thankfully I was able to immediately rectify the mistake which is reflected in the film’s existing credit sequence – and shared an updated link with Damo. May he rest in peace.

When I visited California researching my book “Retreat” in June 2018 I had wanted to visit Linus Pauling’s ranch on the Big Sur coastline which is depicted in the animation. I understand from my friend Patrick Holford that he visited his mentor Pauling there.

Lemon on a dining table at the Esalen Institute.

However, I simply didn’t have time to drop by Deer Flat Ranch in what was a massively compressed schedule. However, with Pauling on my mind, sitting at the canteen at the Esalen Institute, I found there was a lemon that had been left on my table outside. There was clearly a prosaic reason for it being there, but it still acquired gently cosmic overtones for me.

Promotional sticker for my animation of Vitamin C. Website now defunct.

Lemons were central to the history of Vitamin C. Although it was a handy and entirely appropriate motif I used throughout the film, Lemons rank quite low in the scale of fruits for their Vitamin C content.

Oranges for juicing.

The great proportion of Vitamin C in Lemons and Oranges is actually in the inedible peel. If you look strictly at the amount of Vitamin C in the juice, Lemon juice contains 38.7mg of Vitamin C per 100g. On the other hand freshly squeezed Orange Juice contains 50mg of Vitamin C per 100g serving. Oranges are therefore a better bet.

Researching my forthcoming book “The Garden” I recently came across a wonderful quote from Alan Watts in his book “The Joyous Cosmology” (1962) on the subject of Oranges, “Oranges – transformations of the sun into its own image…”

My OJ squeezer. No batteries needed.

Certainly these modest amounts of Vitamin C are nowhere near the quantities consumed by those practising Orthomolecular medicine. However, I think we shouldn’t underestimate the bioavailability of Vitamin C in plain old juice. I’m personally not a fan of liposomal Vitamin C – and I don’t care what science is wheeled out in its favour.

Ultimately, you simply can’t get enough Vitamin C. It has a significant role as an antioxidant, but its importance in regulating Histamine, and I would conjecture by extension Dopamine (which is troublesome in high quantities), is under-researched.