A Bit Of ‘One-Downmanship’

J and I had a glorious ramble up and down the mountain that constitutes our ‘back garden’ today. We’ve learned (after 15 years) that the local distribution range of the Armenian Tulip is much larger than the two little pockets we’d previously found. We’ve added yet another species of orchid to Okçular’s tally – it must be thirty or thirty one now! And seen a ‘seldom seen by casual walkers’ species that’s related to the largest flower in the world.

Although this is a salvaged post from Archers of Okcular 31.3.2013 it is relevant because this is the time to see these beauts.

Here’s a few photos of this mornings wanderings, starting with a bit of inverted ‘one-upmanship’ with our friends Mark and Jolee, kindred spirits from Istanbul.

Tulipa armena ssp lycica – Armenian Tulips growing wild in the ‘steppes’ of Okçular
Cytinus ruber – Cytinus, a parasite only on the pink Cistus or Rock Rose; amazing to think it is in the same Rafflesia family as the world’s largest flower
Raffelesia from Indonesia
unknown but very beautiful
Muscari macrocarpum – only all yellow Muscari
Quince blossom

. . and finally – today’s Star Find . .

Dactylorhiza romana – Roman Orchid
Dactylorhiza romana – Roman Orchid – an encore!

Alan in Okçular

I Love To Go A-Wandering

Along the mountain track, and as I go I love to . . tra-la-la! I know what you’re thinking – ‘what is going on here?’ After a desultory one or two posts each week or ten days this bloke is spewing them out like the pubs after a bad night on Sauchiehall Street. Trouble is, without I ‘spew’ this Beauty of Nature stuff a bit quick, you’ll miss it and that would be a shame. It all happens so fast you see.

Okçular is not like a lot of other places – Okçular has an awful lot of amazing stuff to see. Okçular is worth taking the time and trouble to get yourself here and worth putting your walking clogs on and wandering about a bit. Take this morning for example:

Fritillaria acmopetala (and in the background)


Fritillaria sibthorpiana (endangered endemic)
Papaver argemone – Prickly Poppy
Valeria asarifolia – Valerian
Bellevalia trifoliata
Mauremys caspia – Stripe-necked Terrapin
Ranunculus ficaria – Lesser Celandine

. . below, one of the rarest plants you will ever lay eyes upon . .

Alkanna mughlae – critically endangered endemic
Ornithogalum umbellatum – Star of Bethlehem
Laurus nobilis – Laurel or Sweet Bay

. . and finally, to show I have nothing against orchids . .

Orchis anatolica – Anatolian Orchid

. . and there’s so much more – better you come and see for yourself. Remember your copy of the Okçular Village Guide – Happy Wandering!

Alan Fenn, Okçular

If You Go Down To The Woods Today

There are times when being awake is worse than reliving that moment in the film ‘Alien’ when John Hurt leans over one of those ‘eggs’ in the hold of the alien ship and suddenly – Waaaghhh! – the thing is all over his face and doing a Linda Lovelace impersonation.

‘Deep Throat’ people – ‘Deep Throat’!)

J and I had our first ‘egg’ moment three years ago – we were heaving ourselves up to a ledge in one of our local valleys when there ‘they’ were at nose level. Eggs and aliens! A terrible stench of rotting carcasses filled our nostrils along with hoards of flies trying to do the same! We had never seen anything like these weird creations of some warped, alien imagination.

Since that first close encounter of the t#rd kind we have found a number of these alien hives – some very close to our house. We have also learned a little about them – say ‘Hello!’ to Clathrus ruber aka the Lattice or Basket Stinkhorn or, as the country folk around the former Yugoslavia prefer, ‘Witch’s Heart’!

Alien leaping from its egg
Clathrus ruber – Lattice Stinkhorn sharing an intimate moment with John Hurt; compare with Alien above – see the family likeness?

Learning about the Stinkhorn family is laced with auto-erotic symbolism – they are of the Order Phallales and Family Phallaceae; ‘eggs’ are called volva. In my opinion they are about as erotic as a smear in a Petri dish! They are however, part of a very interesting group of fungi. Another member of the group C. archeri or Octopus Stinkhorn, is a native of Australia and New Zealand –

an Oz alien Clathrus archeri guarding its eggs

– examples have turned up in Turkey and spores are believed to have been transported here in the boxes and equipment of the ANZAC troops following the invasion of Gallipoli/Çanakkale in 1915. It is equally weird but lacks the putrid stench associated with the Lattice Stinker.

glistening and pulsing the ‘egg’ slowly opens –
like John Hurt, curiosity draws you closer – suddenly . . Waaaghhh!

The ‘egg’ is roughly spherical, up to 6 cm (2.4 in) in diameter, with a jelly-like interior. White or grayish in colour, it is initially smooth, but develops a network of polygonal marks on the surface prior to opening. The ‘alien’ bursts the egg open as it expands (a process that can take as little as a few hours), and takes on its new persona as a cross between a dead body and a Wiffle ball! (a plastic ball with holes in it) As the sponge-like ‘lattice’ develops a thick, foul-smelling goo called gleba covers the inner surfaces. This attracts flies and other insects which help to spread the spores. Whilst the ‘eggs’ may take days or weeks to reach ‘hatching’, the amazing fruit will last but a few hours before dissolving into a slimy smear.

Alien hosts a ‘Bring-a-Blowfly’ party

The time to see them is now . .

Alan in Okçular

Jewel In The Crown

Brrrr! By Jove, it’s bloody cold in our corner of SW Turkey. The wind is whistling in from ‘Siberia’ and the clear skies mean there was quite a frost last night up our little valley; it is not a day to be out and about. Generally, our winters here are mild and gentle which manifests itself as a long and colourful springtime.

(This post was recovered from Archers of Okçular first published January 2013)

Anem1Flowers abound with one particular species front and centre at this time – Anemone coronaria the Crown Anemone. Walking around the area, especially if you are using the maps and guide notes in ‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and ‘Backways and Trackways’, is a feast for the eyes with great swathes of multi-coloured anemones wherever you look.

Crown Anemones are native to the Mediterranean region and have had a special place in the various cultures for thousands of years. The Sumerians (3000BCE) named them for their god, Nea’man; the Greeks for Adonis, who died of wounds whilst hunting wild boar and was transformed into a flower stained red by his blood. In Hebrew its name is ‘Calanit’ or ‘Kalanit’, and there is even a link to my old mob, the Parachute Regiment. As the British Mandate for Palestine wound down in bloodshed and ignominy, the Paras serving there were nicknamed ‘Kalaniyot’ for their red berets.


For me, the joy of this flower lies in its profusion and the staggering range of hues of varying intensity – from purple through to palest blue; from scarlet to palest pink to pure white.


There is also an ‘albino’ where even the stamen and stigma are white; these are not very common around here, although there are enough that I could guarantee to show you some in Kocadere Valley. That said, I’ve never seen any elsewhere.

a beautiful white anemone, compare it with the ‘albino’ below

So, ‘Why’, I hear you ask, ‘aren’t you well wrapped up and out there admiring these jewels?’ Because, dear reader, with a flowering period of over three months I can toast my toes by the fire, read a book or write a post and wait for this bitter north wind to blow itself out.


Then I shall wander around, find a warm, sun-dappled spot, and soak up one of the most beautiful and colourful sights in all of nature – countless wild, un-fiddled with ‘Jewel in the Crown Anemones’ set against the backdrop of Okçular’s Kocadere Valley.

Kocadere’s beautiful ‘albino’ Crown Anemone
naturally occurring double anemone
‘Kalaniyot’ – a naturally occurring ‘Red Devil’ 

Alan in Okçular

‘vive la différence’

With my wanderings hampered by wonky knees I’m left with the relative confines of my immediate area – but what an area and what wonders. This from a short walk a few days ago – may it give you as much pleasure as it gave me.

this and the rest are mostly Anemone coronaria in the rain







And next, because a surprise should always be offered when possible, is a first for Okçular.

Anemone heidreichii (the very pale pink on the surface and the light pink on the outside are indicative of this species) believed to be endemic to Crete this is something of a find

Alan in Okçular


Mister Bird

Little Owl checking out the goings-on in the spare bedroom

My fellow villagers are a funny old lot – farmers almost to a man (or woman) and mostly country born and bred. Even so, when I ask them what that is – indicating a dragonfly or cricket – ‘Böcek!’ (insect) they exclaim. And that? (a beetle) ‘Böcek!’

It’s the same with birds – what do you call that? (jay) ‘Kuş!’  (bird) And that? (robin) ‘Kuş!’ There are few exceptions and this continues to astound me, even after 20 years.

When I was a kid growing up in the countryside we bumpkins knew the names of every reptile, insect and bird species whose eggs we plundered for our collections (do be forgiving, nobody had heard of environmentalism back then; this was how it was!). Many of the creatures were known by their local name – it was years before I realised that a ‘Throssle’ was a Song Thrush. Here in Okçular there doesn’t seem to be the same interest, a böcek is a böcek and a kuş is a kuş – what else do you need to know?

Mind you, there is one particular exception, ‘Baykuş’ or Mister Bird. Mister Bird is an owl, which is a dignified and appropriate term of address for a most dignified and intelligent looking creature.

Owls are not let off the ‘böcek’ or ‘kuş’ hook entirely. There are Little Owls, Scops Owls, Tawny Owls and other owls – but they are, to a bird, all labelled with the same monika – ‘Baykuş’ – Mister Birds to a man (or woman).

Tawny Owl

Turks are also a bit superstitious about owls, seeing them as bringers of bad luck – harbingers of doom and such. All of which causes our neighbours some consternation because for a number of years we’ve had a beautiful Tawny Owl living in one of our chimney pots. Not only consternation but incredulity that we are happy about it! In fact, we give off so many happy vibes that, a few winters ago a second Tawny moved into an adjacent condo – two down, two to go! We also get visits from Little Owls and Scops Owls.

Living where we do at the edge of the forest, without street lights (another source of neighbourly worry and consternation) and other distractions, we can sit outside or lie abed and listen to these beautiful creatures calling and answering each other. When the stars are out or the moon is high they add extra enchantment to an already spellbinding experience.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Soon after we moved here, J was driving home quite late one evening and had stopped the car just outside our gate. I went out to see what the problem was and was treated to the most fantastic sight – standing in the beam of the headlights was an enormous bird – an Eagle Owl! J’s nose was glued to the windscreen watching this magnificent creature from just a few metres away. The owl sat there for a while before gathering itself and lifting off silently and disappearing into the night like something returning to another dimension. This is the only Eagle Owl I’ve been fortunate enough to see here – the experience is burned into my memory banks.

I don’t have any photos of that night, so we must make do with these stock images.



Eagle Owl threatening dire consequences for hacking it off!

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Zen and the Art of Composting

Charles ‘Turnip’ Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (18 April 1674 – 21 June 1738) creator of the modern crop rotation system and avid turnip grower.

Joseph Foljambe, inventor of the Rotherham Plough in 1730, quickly superseded by the Scot’s Plough of 1763.

. . not the inventors of the seed drill

Jethro Tull (1674–1741), English agriculturist, often credited with inventing the seed drill (or was that some ‘Flower Power’ rock band?) Actually, the seed drill had been in use in the Far East for a couple of thousand years, but who wants to get between an Englishman and his version of history?

Sir Albert Howard, inventor of compost at Indore in India just before World War I. Really? Yes, really! That is what any decent English History of Agriculture will tell you. Forget what all those ‘Johnny Foreigners’ say, compost is as English as television, rocket engines and the first man on the moon! Aren’t you proud? Aren’t you proud to be English? (or hacked off because you are not?)

But I digress, where was I? Compost; or more precisely, Composting, is an art form. I know this from my many years of living in the shadow of J who, in my opinion, rates up there with those other greats of English agricultural innovation and development.

J makes compost. Or rather, she ‘nurtures’ compost, it’s in her genes, inherited from her gardening father Len whose motto: ‘Now then – just stop and think a minute!’ is the bane of my life. J has made compost ever since she had her first window box as a student in a basement flat on Holland Park Road and found it a convenient place to empty the tea leaves. From such modest beginnings she has morphed into a proverbial ‘Stig of the Dump’, ever enthusiastic but often disheveled and festooned with garden trimmings and blobs of brown stuff.

She is to conventional composting practice and wisdom what Richard Dawkins is to Pope Benedict. J composts everything – garden waste; kitchen waste, cooked and uncooked; dead birds, lizards and polecats that are the left-overs from the murderous nocturnal activities of our bloody moggy; almost anything that is decomposable will be used. And, she adds nothing by way of chemicals, minerals, accelerators or activators. These heaps will attain internal temperatures in excess of 66*C (150*F), you can coddle eggs in there or slow cook a casserole – it is awesome! The results are great mounds of sweet-smelling, rich, brown, run-your-fingers-through-this-and-give-them-a-sniff compost that teems with wildlife and feeds our otherwise barren and stony garden. Everything grows at an accelerated rate; one tree reached 70 feet in eight years! Whole new species have evolved on the revised time-scale J’s stuff provides! There are grubs in the heaps so big that your average Indigenous Australian searching for ‘Bush Tucker’ would discard his Witchetty grubs in disgust!

J cannot stand waste in any shape or form, so a few years ago we acquired one of those macerator things. What an amazing machine – a ‘time machine’ in fact because now I don’t just get to prune all the trees we were stupid enough to plant, I get to spend hours a day feeding all this extra stuff through the machine and clearing it when it jams up! Mind you, J says it is worth it, and who am I to argue with (such an) authority! The ‘Proof of the Pudding lies in the Soil’, or words to that effect!

And the ‘Zen’ bit? I expect you’re wondering about that – well, Zen is about contemplation of the ‘Life Within’ and J spends hours doing just that – ‘Where are you? Come and look at this; smell this stuff – it’s the source of all life, don’t you know!’

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmm; Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

J and her ‘bins’ – the compost is to the left, the other ‘bins’ are on her face(she does not approve of being a ‘celeb’)
the ‘Fount Of All Goodness’

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

Kings and Şahs; Pawns and Piyons

Over the years our Okçular Book Project raised lots of dosh that was mostly spent making our village primary school a better or more fun place for the children and staff. This is a story about one of those projects – the Okçular School ‘Antique’ Outdoor Chess Set.

The idea of an outdoor chess set came to us last year when the school chess club entered a local tournament and came away with a whole bunch of medals and citations (I suspect everyone gets something to encourage them). They were so pleased with themselves that a ‘show piece’ outdoor set for the school seemed a very good idea.

Anyway, try as I might to find a plastic garden set online I couldn’t get a better price than $20 a set . . . as long as I bought 200 sets! So, I asked a computer-savvy Turkish friend to help. ‘What do you want it for?’ ‘The school chess club’ said I. ‘Well, I have the very thing in my garden shed’ said he; ‘It’s old, wooden and a bit battered, but you can have it if you want.’ ‘Nuff said!’ said I, ‘I’ll bring it tomorrow’ said he; and he did.

gluing the bits back together and making new bits

What he delivered could have better been described as a pile of logs!! The quality of the pieces was obvious, but their condition was grim. Many were broken into bits as a result of his kids getting bored and using them as clubs for fighting with; there were parts missing and splits all over the place. I smiled manfully and thanked him!


What followed was three weeks of 8-10 hour days on a restoration project that, whilst unexpected, was actually rather enjoyable. With help from Will, a chum from the other end of the village, and a true master of the art of shaping bits of wood using slivers of broken glass, and J’s undoubted skills with a pot of paint and a brush, we ended up with a uniquely beautiful chess set for the kids. Osman, one of the fathers and a builder by trade made and tiled the playing area, and the whole was handed over to the children. Their faces were a treat and worth every cut and curse of effort to bring this little project to completion.

The Okçular Book Project was all about community and giving something back for all the kindness shown to J and me since we first moved here more than 20 years ago.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures;

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü