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28 April: The Shower.

Waters above! eternal springs! 
The dew that silvers the Dove's wings! 
O welcome, welcome to the sad! 
Give dry dust drink; drink that makes glad! 
Many fair ev'nings, many flow'rs 
Sweeten'd with rich and gentle showers, 
Have I enjoy'd, and down have run 
Many a fine and shining sun; 
But never, till this happy hour, 
Was blest with such an evening-shower! 

                                                  From "Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II.

This was not an April shower, but a March one; a morning but not an evening shower yet I'm sure Henry Vaughan would have appreciated it, as I did, seeing the raindrops on the willows shining on the osiers. Laudato Si'!
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John Downie’s spring moment

When Mrs T had decided the old lilac tree had to go, it went to keep us warm, thanks to the woodburner. In to replace it came a crab apple called John Downie. A welcome addition to the garden and much friendlier to its neighbours than the lilac, which hogged all the surface water and the light. Maybe we can, at last, grow hellebores here. Whether or not that happens, this is John Downie’s Spring moment!

Come the Autumn and those little branches will be full of deep red apples which make a well-coloured jelly.

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Wind Flowers

It has been windy but bright these last few days, just the weather for windflowers, wood anemones. Mrs Turnstone’s walk took us up to the University woods to greet them. Here they are are very pale, even white. Across town in Larkey Valley woods there are patches of such a dark pink as to merit being called purple. I had a photo of them, somewhere …

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Croaking into Spring

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Mrs T had been subdued, hardly mentioning the lack of frogspawn in our garden pond. It’s an annual worry: will they lay this year? Last summer neighbours cleared a neglected garden and disturbed many frogs in the ivy that was undermining the garden wall.

I said nothing; till today. As I let myself through the back gate I heard a croak, a full-throated, joyous croak. At least one frog was alive! Naturally I peered into the pond and there I saw two mounds of frogs’ eggs. Had a certain friend brought some from her garden which always has a surplus?

Not at all, these had been laid overnight. Coming later in the season they are less likely to be killed by frost, though we’ll have to be on hand to cover the pond overnight with bubble wrap. Let’s live in hope, and continue to provide places of refuge amid ground cover plants such as ivy, periwinkle or these violets.

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Fleecy tenants

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… The sheepfold here
  Pours out its fleecy tenants o’er the glebe.
  At first, progressive as a stream they seek
  The middle field: but, scatter’d by degrees,
  Each to his choice, soon whiten all the land.
  

(from William Cowper’s The Task

When Cowper wrote this in the 18th Century he was living in Bedfordshire, almost as flat as the Sussex salt marshes, where the picture was taken. And he would have seen the occasional stage coach pass by, not hourly trains, as seen in the background here.

A delightful word picture, an illumination like those little sketches in mediaeval manuscripts.

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A therapeutic exercise for January

My friend Thomas sent an email to say, ‘We are not failures’ if our New Year Resolutions have not borne the fruit we’d hoped for. So be good to yourself: ‘if only for a moment, let yourself be at home with yourself’.’

One place I am at home with myself is the kitchen. The school Thomas and I attended expected us to master basic cooking, but many of the lads can do better than basic. My January therapeutic special activity is making marmalade. Not much foraging to this one but come Autumn we can make October marmalade using citrus peel, sugar and windfall or crab apples, which supply the pectin that helps the preserve to set.

January the set depends on long boiling and added pectin, using most of the stored jars from under the stairs. That’s our label up above. Friends and relations look out!

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A Misty, moisty Boxing Day.

If Christmas day does not allow a walk in the countryside or by the sea, the 26th will have to see us on our feet. That is how we were in 2021, despite the mud underfoot, the puddles almost big enough to count as floods and a sky 20cm above our heads. A short walk to Harbledown and Golden Hill, which did not live up to its name today.

On Golden Hill

Jewelled raindrops on the Hawthorn.

Looking North across the mist from Golden Hill, and below, looking East, a white house just visible through the mist.

Let’s hope the rain allows another walk before the holiday is over. No white Christmas here!

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Samuel Johnson in Winter

A festive fire at the Turnstones’ a few years ago.

Festive fires are few and far between these days, but ‘Rouse, rouse the fire, and pile it high, Light up a constellation here’, as Samuel Johnson says. It will soon be Christmas. We have our constellation of fairy lights, now what would he have made of that?

Well, we no more than Johnson, should not submit to a dreary winter’s tale: it will soon be Christmas! Let’s use each transient hour to restore the spring in our own – or other people’s hearts. It is the time of Joy.

But many are in danger of death in regions where conflict has led to famine, cold, sickness and separation from family and friends. Not to mention Covid in all its variants. Let us not bar the door of our hearts to our sisters and brothers!

Winter

Haste, close the window, bar the doors,
  Fate leaves me Stella, and a friend.

In nature’s aid, let art supply
  With light and heat my little sphere;
Rouse, rouse the fire, and pile it high,
  Light up a constellation here.


Let musick sound the voice of joy,
  Or mirth repeat the jocund tale;
Let love his wanton wiles employ,
  And o’er the season wine prevail.

Yet time life’s dreary winter brings,
  When mirth’s gay tale shall please no more
Nor musick charm—though Stella sings;
  Nor love, nor wine, the spring restore.


Catch, then, Oh! catch the transient hour,
  Improve each moment as it flies;
Life’s a short summer—man a flow’r:
  He dies—alas! how soon he dies!”

(from The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes.

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Victory!

The ancient Blean Wood is behind the young growth and scrub here.

Barriers and ‘Road Closed’ signs gloated across the big roundabout, cutting us off from our intended walk. ‘We could go to Victory Wood’, suggested Mrs Turnstone, so we did.

Trees growing where once was farmland – but before that, for thousands of years, there were trees.

The Woodland Trust began planting Victory Wood in 2005 before many of us had realised how urgently we need to increase our forest cover in England. 2005 is 200 years since the battle of Trafalgar, when Admiral Nelson, on board HMS Victory, defeated the French and Spanish navies. Victory, like all ships of the line in those days, was constructed chiefly from English, even Kentish Oak. There was good money for timber, and landowners did not always replace felled trees.

The sea, in the background here, transported thousands of oaks to Chatham Naval Yards from this site.

Much of the land we walked today had been cleared for agriculture post 1945, but 60 years later it was being returned to its natural state, a process that continues as staff and volunteers monitor the growth of different species.

A ladybird was basking in the November sunshine.
And a pretty crab apple caught the eye.

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Winter comes on Autumn’s Heels

Bitter For Sweet

Summer is gone with all its roses,
  Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
  Its warm air and refreshing showers:
    And even Autumn closes.

 Yea, Autumn's chilly self is going,
  And winter comes which is yet colder;
  Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder,
    And the last buds cease blowing.

From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti.

There were more frosts and more intense cold in Christina Rossetti’s time. Nevertheless, we have had the first hoar frost of this winter, those last dahlia buds look unlikely to flower; the tents along Canterbury High Street we hope are keeping people safe, and warmer than otherwise they would be, until the shelter opens next month.

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26 October: Dig the whole day through.

Mrs T and I went to Richborough Roman Fort this morning, a few miles from Canterbury. There are high walls still above ground but much more remains underground. We had booked a tour to the excavations, along with several other adults and children. It’s one of those places where the sea has retreated. In Roman times it was an island, linked by a causeway to the mainland, famous for oysters. The former sea is now farmland, the sea a good 2 miles away. All change!

The tour was most interesting, led by people who knew their subject and could speak to the non-expert. At various times between 43 AD and the great Roman retreat, the place was a garrison and a trading port and there is a sizable town under the earth. The bit that was being excavated had been identified as an amphitheatre in Tudor times, but this was the first modern dig after a local surveyor had a peek in 1850 or so. His plan did not fit the one the technology found from drone flights, till the scientists allowed for the shift in magnetic North, which aligned the two plans exactly.

What we could see was of course trenches cut through the soil, but one of them included a section of the wall of the bullring, which was painted: only 17 others have been identified throughout the Empire. Experts are coming down to have a close look and try to interpret the painting, meanwhile the young archaeologists, and a couple of elderly ones, were still digging and cleaning the painting with smokers’ stiff toothbrushes. A nail brush would be too hard.

There was also a wall of what had been thought to be an entrance to the building but turned out to be the holding area for the beasts. Grooves for the hurdles to keep them apart. A few yards away, a complete cat’s skeleton was found, bagged up for analysis, and nicknamed Bagpuss. Coins, pottery, jewellery; there are many finds to be examined and recorded.

And now the archaeologists have to hurry as the farmer wants his land back in the middle of next month. The walls will be covered up again, but carefully, to ensure the safety of the relics for possibly a few hundred more years and to leave the surface safe and sound for cattle to graze over.

It was a privilege to see this amphitheatre; no photographs allowed at the dig, so no photographs in the blog either. The view above shows part of the remaining Roman fort.

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Autumnal birds

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We are moving slowly, gently, through Autumn into winter again. I passed this spot the other evening: it’s no longer a car park, but has been adopted by skate-boarders and roller skaters for practising their skills. The trees and bushes behind the railway fence are as inaccessible to humans as ever so provide safe roosting for little birds through the dark nights. Even our messiest corners can be used creatively by other creatures.

Last year we had the sparrows in residence, last week it was the starlings, chuckling away in chorus as I walked by. They were close at hand but out of sight in the gloaming, so here they are getting together one afternoon before flying off to gather in greater numbers on their way to the roost.

Follow this link for a previous reflection from this car park.

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Where did that come from?

Yesterday, as you can see, it was raining when I got to the Garden, and it stayed that way all the time I was there. That’s not the reason for the post, though, but the plant the pictures show.

You’ll notice that it has no hint of green about it; this is because it is a parasite and cannot make its own chlorophyll. It derives this vital fluid from tapping into the roots of its host plant, which is ivy. It’s name is Orobanche hederae, or ivy broomrape.

When I was identifying this at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland there were few records mapped in Kent, the nearest being at Eastry village 14 miles away. That of course does not mean there are none nearer than that, they may even be relatively common since ivy, the host plant, grows almost everywhere. I don’t think anyone has introduced it here on purpose, especially to the awkward corner it occupies, so the guess has to be that a highly favoured seed – they are like specks of dust – blew here from wherever the parent plant was growing. The third picture shows that there are more shoots to come, so it’s well established with us. Let’s hope we can keep it thriving.

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5 April. DH Lawrence: THE ENKINDLED SPRING

THIS spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering  rushes.
 I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
 And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

from Amores Poems by D. H. Lawrence

It’s good to be amazed by Spring but I guess many of us will feel lost and bruised from being tossed about over the last year and more of living with the virus. We’ll take a walk today, Easter Monday, to warm ourselves at the green fires of Spring, like this bank of wild garlic.

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Finding your feet

It’s a few years since Abel found his feet, but the little boy in the park this morning was just getting used to his holding him up and getting him places. He took a step forward, away from his mother who was queuing for drinks from the little kiosk cafe. He was not expecting his step to ring out, but his foot landed on the metal cover for the fountain stop tap. A step back. Another step forward. Back and forth with a look of intelligent concentration, oblivious to his mother or anybody else or anything at all, except the sounds he was making with his feet. A special moment that he will not remember, but I will.

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Snow day for gardening

I had a job to do at the garden, a snowy weather sort of job, fixing warning notices for would-be trespassers. Those who came over the wall last summer always left a mess of takeaway containers.

It was a surprise to meet a couple of snow people outside the gate, but the church looked lovely in the snow, as did the garden, and the notices are now in position and giving out their message, loud and clear. An enjoyable morning in a thaw, if only temporary.

The footprints are from Fox, Moorhen with the partly webbed toes, and robin, hopping along rather than walking.

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Lightening the garden’s darkness

In central Canterbury, between the Marlowe Theatre and a branch of the River Stour, a short new footpath was created a few years ago; it’s a useful off-road cut through for the family Turnstone making for home.

This dogwood (cornus) was cut to the ground a year ago. For another month it will be shining on grey days as well as sunny; then it may well be pruned hard again. I must check on my cuttings!

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Snowdrops

Somewhere recently I saw these called Candlemas Lilies. That rang a distant, tinkling bell; it must have been in childhood. It’s easy to forget Candlemas (2 February) these days, Christmas disappears into the distance and normal life takes over.

But this year – this year, whatever your beliefs, take a Christian custom and make it your own. Dining alone, with partner or family, light a candle on the dining table to be a sign of hope in these dark days of covid.

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A proper Winter’s walk

On Sunday we walked through Fredville again, enjoying the frost both close-up and into the distance. After a stop at Barfrestone Church we walked a different path back to Nonnington with the sun behind us seeing off the last of the white – which hadn’t spoilt the sheep’s appetite. If you didn’t know that the Hurricane had been through here in 1987, you’d hardly guess it. The carefully planted mature trees lead the eye to look around and take in the beauty of the land; if some of the trees are past their best, there are smaller ones planted here and there, and we did see a tree nursery on another walk.

frozen Old Man’s Beard

The car park is now closed, which puts the bushes at the back further away from any human interference. The sparrows have caught on; when we were walking Abel home from school on the dankest, darkest afternoon of the year, they had gone to roost early, but they hadn’t gone quietly! I’m sure I’m not alone in enjoying their chatter.

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Pleasure in the plot

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A book I return to is Come into the Garden, Cook, by Constance Spry who had connections with the village of Barefrestone, where L’Arche Kent began. I missed New Year’s Day, when I’d meant to post this, so here it is now, rather than waiting 360 days. Spry was writing in wartime to encourage creativity in cooking. She was also an artist in floristry, which shows through in this post. Enjoy your garden, and happy new year!

On this first day of January (1942) I will tell you what, in even an indifferent vegetable plot, gives pleasure. There is a splash of bright green like a rug thrown onto the brown earth lying next to rows of grey flags, just common or garden parsley and leeks. There’s a breadth of what might be grey-green tropical fern, but is, in fact, chou de Russie. (Russian kale) There’s grandeur and colour in rows of red cabbage and the purple decorative kale.

From Constance Spry, Come into the Garden, Cook, London, Dent, 1942, p11.

Photograph by Marc Ryckaert

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Green grows the lettuce, oh!

I walk this way a couple of times a week. Stour Street runs parallel to the river. Its old houses have post-war buildings in between them where bombs and at least one fire removed others. The street is narrow here; the 19th Century house has a strip of flagstones and a low wall but no front garden – except for this 25 cm square with its specimen of a lettuce. It brightened up a grey day!

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Almost the last preserve of 2020

A week ago we walked across the fields and found damsons, small, black, sour plums that were sweeter than they would have been a month ago. The label on the jam jars reads as follows, printed beneath this picture.

Foragers’ Final Flourish 
November 2020 
Damsons, crabs, and other hedgerow delicacies.

The good Mrs T had brought home the windfalls a while before that. Their bruises were romping away like a rugby forward on warfarin, so now there are jars of apple puree awaiting the winter. I’m always gratified to hear the click of the jar lids as the vacuum takes effect!

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The Art of the City

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As part of the Canterbury Festival, much pruned down this year, L’Arche Kent and others have produced an art trail or pilgrimage across the city. I’ve captured a few of the pictures, but the some of the photos are beset with reflections; if I’d used the flash it would have bounced off the windows, hiding the pictures, so here the windows are, mostly taken on a wet day.

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Are we inside looking out, or outside looking in? The reflection makes a different picture to what the artists intended!

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More from L’Arche Kent’s Rainbow artists, and in the next picture.

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Support for the National Health Service staff with the rainbows here.
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A window with a message, linked to the next, which showcases some recycled clothes. I saw the artist assembling this exhibit; he seemed to be enjoying herself and doubtless enjoyed the making of the party outfits. The arch is a ghost image from across the street.

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People’s experience of being locked down. Have a good read!

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Catching Lives is a local organisation for people who are homeless.
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Finally the front window of L’Arche Kent itself at the Saint Radigund’s Street Office! A show of talent.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little autumn pilgrimage across Canterbury. Do keep L’Arche, Catching Lives and all struggling artists in your prayers.

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Manna from heaven

It was a day that demanded a Sunday Walk. With foraging bags. Just as well, since the chestnuts are beginning to fall. Christmas preparations are under way. Small nuts will make stuffing, many are large enough to roast in the fire.

The local rector, Jo, was out foraging the day before. Her post reminded us to be grateful for God’s bounty. Amen to that, and how good to live in this part of the world! The chestnuts are a reminder of manna: we foragers have only to go out to gather them in – but they do not have to be eaten the same day.

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Just a light breakfast, please.

There was a spring in my step, despite the Autumn day and my Autumnal years. I had just been told that my cataract op had been successful, healing was proceeding according to expectations. And the sun came out.

Why not have fish and chips for lunch at Herne Bay clocktower? The shop recommended by Abel was open. I had to wait for the meal to be cooked, and it was all I could do to eat this ‘small’ portion, or so I thought. All of it was delicious.

This board advertising a light breakfast caught my rejuvenated eye. I’m not sure I’d have put that away even when I was doing hard manual work for a living! No doubt it will be as well cooked as the fish and someone will enjoy it, to the last little bean.

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Honesty.

There is always something to see. Behind a hedge, skirting the tarred footpath this array of silvery white caught the eye. Not flowers, but the seed heads of honesty, or lunaria to give its official name. Lunaria comes from the moon, of course, and I was told that honesty refers to the way the seeds can be seen in the silvery pods. Can any of us claim to have nothing to hide?

No need to hide this wild flower if it springs up in your garden! The pods will stay on the stem for most of winter, following stems of purple, pink or white flowers.

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1 June: Richard Jefferies I: Apparent indifference

walk5I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here. The book is available at Project Gutenberg.

Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.

That’s better, thank you!

Azaleas are part of the rhododendron family, which means that they like an acid soil, not the alluvial, chalky ground at the L’Arche garden in Canterbury. This one was unhappy, planted out of its comfort zone, till our colleague Maurice C. came along. He dug out a hole, lined it with polythene sheeting, filled it with ericaceous compost, and moved azalea in, just before lockdown.

later I applied a little judicious pruning, but he did all the hard work. It has paid off as you see.

Congratulations Maurice! And thank you. From now on, Spring will be that much brighter each year.

Sprung Rhythm

My friend wrote today from Ontario, saying that Spring was still struggling to flower. I recalled the time I was there in April, leaving on 23rd, St George’s Day. The fields were lifeless and brown, the lakeside trees ensheathed in ice, the joggers well-wrapped.

Arrival at Heathrow was to enter another world, green, flowery, bright. Cherry and apple blossom, tulips and late daffodils.

There was a bus all the way home, so I evaded the Underground, which would have been faster, and drowsed my way home, taking in England through half-open eyes.

Local food II: ask the local supermarket

Jempson’s is a local supermarket group in East Sussex, committed to sourcing food locally when they can. Compare their five reasons to shop locally to the Goods Shed’s ten that we saw the other day; which is more considered, which is more convincing?

Jempson’s seem to know and value their suppliers. This post card, free by the checkout, spreads the word, and others celebrate some of their farmers and producers, as you can see below. Hard-working, innovative workers, local heroes indeed!

Local Food 1 – a contentious issue.

This leaflet from the Goods Shed Market in Canterbury makes some good points but falls down from trying too hard to assemble ten reasons to buy and eat local food, something I am in favour of.

Local food may well be held in cold storage for months. I once looked after an apple store, a cool shed that thanks to the shade of evergreens did not see the sun, and people have always used cellars, pantries and unheated outhouses. Cold storage can be an essential part of seasonal eating, storing apples like St Edmund’s Russets or Bramleys but eating Discovery or Grenadier at the beginning of the harvest season.

You don’t always know who produces your food if you buy locally, you have to trust your retailer. On the other hand, an allotment puts you in control of your vegetables from seed to plate. But not that many of us have time, health or opportunity to grow more than a little of our own food.

I could argue a few more points, but I’ll conclude with the old advice that the Goods Shed scribe would surely endorse: CAVEAT EMPTOR: buyer beware!

25 April: Small World.

Maggie Scott recently wrote about her work bringing children face-to-face with nature. I remember the joy of growing up, and of being alive in streams and forests, with or without parents; not to mention the joy of sharing nature with my own children, and now grandchildren, but not all then or now are so blessed, growing up in big cities.

Here’s an extract from Maggie Scott’s short article, which you will find here.

Working as an educator at a New York wildlife refuge, I had the pleasure of educating children about the environment, especially regarding the plants and animals native to my home state. During my work, I encountered many children with little to no prior exposure to undisturbed nature, since they lived in cities without much accessible green space. They had never been exposed to the species that I recognized from my own childhood growing up on Long Island.

Slowly yet all at once, I realised the gravity of what I was witnessing. 

Good Friday gifts

The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.

Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.

After the L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.

Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.

Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.

In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Walking home from the Cathedral in the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.

To everything is there a season?

I met my neighbour as we were leaving our respective homes this morning, he to climb into his car, I to walk into town to water the garden. ‘Morning Bob!’ ‘Morning Will, isn’t this lovely? And about time too!’

I must say that I spend more time out of doors than Bob does, almost whatever the weather, and indeed it was lovely this morning. But that ‘about time too’ hit me between the ears; I felt rather confused. Maybe I was a bit too sensitive to the unspoken criticism of the creator, or of nature if you will, for not providing Bob’s expected ration of sunshine over the last few days.

Probably as well that Bob was in his car before I’d sorted these thoughts into words. At least I can share them with you, dear reader! And I trust Bob is enjoying Spring in his own way. And you as well, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere.

Happy Easter!

(And I walked past this magnolia on my way to the garden.)