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.
It’s the feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men who travelled from the East to Baby Jesus, so why not celebrate with Traveller’s Joy!
This is a wild clematis that is happy climbing around hedgerows and wasteland, with pale green-tinged flowers in late summer, and in winter seed heads that look white or grey according to the light. Old Man’s Beard it gets called at this stage.
Alongside the railway towards Dover it has spread itself. I arrived at just the right moment this week to catch the few minutes’ sunshine through the beard. Right beside it is the Victorian footbridge, recently decorated by community artists with – Traveller’s Joy!
On Christmas morning there were a few blooms on the Mermaid rose by the front door, so one was brought inside to open fully in front of Mrs Turnstone’s place.
The winter so far has not given more than two frosts, neither sharp enough to kill Mermaid’s flowers, nor those of Thomas Becket. One of them can come inside on Saturday, the day he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.
And, as our parish priest would insist, it’s not too late to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Our Victorian forebears were rather taken with the language of flowers and could semaphore their feelings through a careful choice of blooms in a posy. Hence the pansy, or pensée in French, signalled, ‘you are in my thoughts.’
Mrs T and I visited Chartham village with Abel. After he had played on the roundabouts at the village green, we wandered into the churchyard for lunch under the trees.
Our Victorian forebears, if they could afford it, erected finely carved stones over their loved-one’s graves. Without much effort at all we found these three carved with passionflowers which represent the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns.
All this suffering somehow mirrored in a beautiful flower. And by carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the three families were proclaiming belief that the dead would rise again with Christ. A good thought and prayer for November and All Souls.
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
Where the council took out an ailing cherry tree in the next street, they left a void. One neighbour offered a hazel, and another cuttings of hydrangea. With a little tlc they are thriving, but the annual flowers have not enjoyed the dry summer so much. Other neighbours have offered their outdoor tap for watering, saving yours truly a few yards carrying watering cans. Someone else has promised daffodils which can go in next month.
Today I was tackling some of the weeds which have sprung up between the annuals from seeds that have lain dormant for years; fat hen, various docks, sow thistle, dandelions and their friends and relations. Mrs H stopped by: ‘I might have known it was you. Thank you for doing this.’ And just when I could get no more in the bucket, a professional gardener offers to empty it into his van and ‘save you carrying it around.’
All very encouraging! I’d best keep up the good work.