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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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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 tresspassers. Those who came over the 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 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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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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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.

A shared table

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I had been sitting at the garden table, taking tea with Mrs Turnstone and Grandson No 2, but they had to go to find his parents. I sipped on.

I feel I have short-changed you, dear readers, because the central character in this story does not appear in the feature photograph, but she would have been even more camera shy than Mrs T is, and I was enjoying her company too much to send her packing by pulling out my phone. (When I moved to do so the next day, she flew off.)

She is one of the hen sparrows that nest in the roof of next-door-but-one. The landlord could do with fixing the roof but will have to wait now until the breeding season is over. The sparrow flew down to the table and attacked one side of the sliver of cake; these was a waspy looking creature opposite who probably would have posed for a photo, but Mrs Sparrow is not that bold, so what you get to see is a sliver of strawberry cake, slightly ragged at the edges. I got a shared meal with Mrs Sparrow, an uninvited guest.

Not that she sees it that way. As far as she is concerned, we humans are part of God’s providence (Luke 12:6). Food was provided, and food was accepted. She tucked in herself before taking a beakful home. At some point later the cake fell to the floor and was scattered across the flagstones; but it grew too dark for photography, and by the time a tardy human dragged himself downstairs next morning, the crumbs were gone.

I expect this bird is one of those that helped themselves to Mrs Turnstone’s sphagnum moss for nesting, leaving her hanging baskets denuded; I daresay, too, Mrs Sparrow knows about the garden flowers pecked to ribbons for their sweet petals and nectar. Some things just have to be forgiven.

Other translations of this psalm have swallow for turtle; turtle being the turtle dove of course. Not as noisy as our local collared doves, I imagine.

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! 
My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. 
My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. 
For the sparrow hath found herself a house, 
and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: 
Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, 
my king and my God. 
Psalm 83 (84)2-4

Up Hawkshaw Lane

My friend Frog was up North recently. Here is her account of a walk in the hills. Enjoy the discoveries she made; I surely did.


In the Writing Garden

Evening walk up Hawkshaw Lane in a warm breeze.

A few blackbirds perched on the lines sing the day’s lullaby. It was a summer’s day, a blustery and dazzling day, full of kites, cotton-grass and buttercups.

Holcombe Hill cotton-grass

Now there are only two of us, and we leisurely follow the lane up towards the rounded heights of the moors. It looks and feels like the Yorkshire Dales, with large tree leaves fanning a powdery twilight, and rolling hills all around us. We almost never get the chance of a tranquil evening stroll nowadays, which for many years was part of our daily routine. Peace lays its wings on our shoulders, our chests, our hearts. Our breath deepens and something of a smile of true joy blooms somewhere within.

Up the lane, we meet a road which imposes a choice. It is, L. says, the old road to Haslingden. We…

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1 June: Suddenly it’s summer

Westgate Gardens, Canterbury, May 29, 2021

There have been two times this year when I breathed more freely, both occurred when the weather was fine, but that was not the only reason.

We go back, first of all, to the Monday when schools reopened for all pupils. I don’t know what homework was set that day, but I was walking through the city around 5.00 p.m. and there was a tangible air of joy around the place. It felt as if every teenager had gone home and dressed in their best and now they were gathering in the parks, on the steps of the theatre, in the disused car park – now adopted by skate-boarders, roller-skaters and people too young to use the electric scooters scattered around the town.

Everywhere though, the buzz of face to face chatter. It was so good to witness the love and solidarity bubbling up all around the town.

There followed weeks of inclement weather, a cold, dry, April, a cold, wet May. Dedicated walkers ventured out, many people did not seem to. Then this last long weekend, with a bank holiday Monday was endowed with sunshine and warmth. This picture was taken quite early in the day in one of the big city centre parks. The building in the background is Tower House, official residence of the Lord Mayor. The River Stour flows along the left of the picture behind a stone wall. It is liable to flood in wintertime but now entices young and old to look for fish or feed the ducks. When my grandson was 18 months old he ran across the grass to join some Italian students playing rugby.

I wonder when we will be welcoming language students again, but this weekend it has been good to see our own young people enjoying each other’s company.

Rejoicing mutually and mutually complaining

An Englishman’s notice of the weather is the natural consequence of changeable skies and uncertain seasons… In our island every man goes to sleep unable to guess whether he shall behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that we hoped.

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, No. II, in Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell

17 May: I nearly stood on it!

When I arrived at work this morning the duck and drake were sleeping on the grass, opening one eye between them as I walked past. It was a few minutes later that I began readying the grass for a trim and the ducks had waddled off to the churchyard, that I spotted the egg, just in time not to step on it.

The magpie was already taking an interest in the garden, and if he didn’t get the egg, the mower would.

So home it came with me; the freshest, tastiest poached egg I’d enjoyed in years, with a sauce of freshly picked and chopped chives from the raised beds.

Grateful as I am, I hope Mrs Duck finds a safe place to lay the rest of her eggs.

A determined struggle.

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I could not resist sharing this little story. I am more inclined to believe this happened in a cast iron Royal Mail box, like the one below, rather than a private householder’s gatebox, as shown above. WT.

Rowfant [a small village in Sussex] was once the scene of one of the most determined struggles in history. The contestants were a series of Titmice and the G.P.O., and the account of the war may be read in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington:—

“In 1888, a pair of the Great Titmouse (Parus major) began to build their nest in the post-box which stood in the road at Rowfant, and into which letters, &c., were posted and taken out by the door daily. One of the birds was killed by a boy, and the nest was not finished. In 1889, a pair completed the nest, laid seven eggs, and began to sit; but one day, when an unusual number of post-cards were dropped into, and nearly filled, the box, the birds deserted the nest, which was afterwards removed with the eggs. In 1890, a pair built a new nest and laid seven eggs, and reared a brood of five young, although the letters posted were often found lying on the back of the sitting bird, which never left the nest when the door of the box was opened to take out the letters. The birds went in and out by the slit.

From Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas.

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Not this box, but probably one very like it.