What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?
The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.
Mrs Turnstone came in from her night shift and went to bed, but a few minutes later I heard the floorboards creak in the back bedroom. As ever of late, the wood pigeons and collared doves were filling the air, keeping her awake. I was reminded of Robert Frost’s Minor Bird:
I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
I 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.
I was not best pleased to find the hosepipe all rolled up and disconnected when I arrived at the garden. The pump is temperamental, the hose likewise, and reassembling it all takes longer than it should. Perhaps we need a few more connectors.
Well, I was feeling as temperamental as the equipment when, on my knees, I caught site of this damsel fly drying its new wings beside the river. I would never have seen it, just walking by. I even had chance to grab the phone from my coat and snap! These creatures do not sit still for long once the new life is surging through their veins, so I was grateful to have had a good look and to be able to share it with you.
In Saint Mildred’s churchyard in Canterbury, across from the L’Arche garden, there is a solitary standard rose; it was looking quite shabby with suckers at the base and lots of blackspot on the leaves. Beside it is a plaque telling that it was planted in memory of Elizabeth Hover, who was married in this church in 1948 and died in Australia.
One day this spring I could bear it no longer and pruned the flowering stems hard, removed the suckers and sprayed for blackspot.
There have been three flushes of flowers since then. I was pleased about that. But one Friday I heard more. Elizabeth’s husband Albert had paid for the rose from Australia. When he came back to visit Canterbury after her death, he met one of the ladies who now run the coffee mornings where L’Arche are regular customers, including Abel when he’s around.
She knew the returning native straight away. ‘I said, “You’re Albert Hover that went to Australia.”‘ His wife had the most beautiful golden hair, she reminded him, not auburn but pure gold. ‘Well, after that he kept in touch though now he’s 91. He was only on the phone yesterday, asking, “How’s Elizabeth’s rose?” Now I can tell him. Thank you for taking it on. ‘
So there we are. You don’t know what ripples may come from a random act of something like kindness; and often enough you may never know. But it was worth pruning the rose for its own sake. Laudato si!
A version of this post appears on Agnellusmirror.wordpress.com
Kent is famous for hops, and next weekend is the hop festival in nearby Faversham. We have a bine growing over the willow arch at the Glebe garden of L’Arche Kent in Canterbury. L’Arche is a community of people with and without learning disabilities. I enjoy the hops in their natural glory as well. With some care and attention they should be producing really useful amounts in years to come.